Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and positions of Iran
By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea
Caspian Sea from space (NASA, 2003) -- see high resolution
The Caspian littoral states (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) have been working on a document called “draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea” for the last several years in numerous meetings at various levels including the summit conferences of the heads of states and governments. They have not yet succeeded to reach a consensus on all important articles of such a document which are related to the criteria for delimitation of the Caspian Sea. However, in 2015 the Iranian officials announced that “the sides have reached complete agreement on six provisions of the Caspian Sea convention”. (1) Since then the Iranian officials have not told the people, how these agreements are reached?
What has stopped the Caspian littoral states from generally accepting the Russian proposed formula of MML (using a Modified Median Line, based on the length of the coasts, to delimit the Caspian Seabed and leaving its superjacent waters for common use of the littoral states. Using MML gives Iran less than 13 percent of the Caspian seabed) ), and what has stopped the finalization of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, is positions of Iran regarding the necessity of using the international legal principle of equity in delimitation of the Caspian Sea among the littoral states. According to explanations provided by the Iranian officials in the past, using the above-mentioned principle means allocation of 20 percent of the entire Caspian sea-bed and waters to each of the Caspian littoral states, including and especially to Iran. (2)
During the last many years, no other Caspian Sea littoral state has been ready to take any step in the direction of accommodating demands of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Caspian Sea. Russians who were initially in favor of a kind of condominium of the littoral states for administering the Caspian Sea (this was the position shared with Iran), abandoned this approach in 2002 (after the failure of the Ashgabat summit conference of the Caspian states to find a commonly acceptable formula). They have so far concluded separate and bilateral agreements with Kazakhstan, and the Republic of Azerbaijan to divide the seabed on the basis of the MML. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan also have signed similar agreement about the Caspian seabed. These states are putting pressure on Turkmenistan to accept this method. Turkmenistan which is not in favor of the Iranian demands at all, is insisting on a separate agreement on couple of oil and gas fields in the Caspian Sea which are claimed by others too and then they have no problem with the MML. Iran claims that all of these agreements are void because they have not been made with consensus of all littoral states.
Under these conditions, the question arises that: what do the Iranian officials mean by telling that complete agreement has been reached on the important provisions of the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea? Is Iran ready to accept the MML, because Iran at the moment has not the support of Western countries in general and in this case, it has not the support of the East (Russia) and other regional states too? In there a kind of secret diplomacy going on in the case of the Caspian Sea in Iran?
In the light of previous announcements and claims of the Iranian side, the positions of the Iran in the Caspian Sea are as follows and again the question is how much these items are going to be compromised in the new convention by Iran?
- The Caspian Sea is a sea of "peace and friendship". This point has in fact two important sides: it is an expression of hope that peace prevails in the Caspian Sea and at the same time, it is indirectly a kind expression of concern that the Caspian Sea has potentials for conflict and if the littoral states cannot find ways to solve their problems from peaceful ways, the possibility of conflict is there. Lack of attention to the fundamental interests of a major power in the region can be a cause of problem to peace and stability. This is also a call for refraining from militarization of the Caspian Sea.
- The case of the Caspian Sea is a "Sui generis" (a special and exclusive status). This is a key issue in the Caspian Sea affairs and it affects all other issues related to this region. The Caspian Sea is a unique case and for the same reason its legal regime and the delimitations and other maritime issues are not subject to the general rules of the international law of the sea.
- The littoral states of the Caspian Sea have the ability and the right to find their own formula for the problems of the Caspian Sea. In the same context, some of the littoral states have proposed in the past that at the same rules of the international law of the sea to be used in the Caspian Sea. However, the other states are under no obligation to accept this suggestion.
- No legal regime can be defined in the Caspian Sea without agreement of Iran. Noting that some states of the Caspian Sea, led by the Russians, have opted for delimitation of the Caspian Sea-bed by Modified Median Lines (MML) and Iran is basically opposed to this formula (the reason is that the formula gives the smallest share to Iran, among others.)
- The legal regime should be defined on the basis of "equity" as a principle of the International law. Iran's position regarding the legal regime of the Caspian Sea has gone through several periods. In the first period Iran was supporting the common administration of the Caspian Sea. Later, when confronted with the rejection of this formula by others, Iran started to ask for the 20 percent for each. Yet, in another stage Iran asked for the division on the basis of "equity". During the last couple of years, Iran has been talking about the "equity".
- Any decision for the legal regime of the Caspian Sea must be the result of "consensus "among the littoral states. This point is based on the fact that the littoral states should decide the fate of the Caspian Sea and it is necessary that they agree on it. The issue was first mentioned in the earlier agreements of the littoral states but later mentioned in clear words in the final declaration of the Tehran Summit in 2007.
- The non-littoral should not interfere in the issues of the Caspian Sea. The point is based on the old Iran-Russian treaties of 1921 and 1940.
- Iran-Russian treaties of 1921 and 1940, although they are old and not accepted by some of the newly independent countries, still form the backbone of the legal regime of the Caspian Sea until such time that the littoral states find a new regime agreed by all of them.
- Security of the Caspian Sea will be provided by the littoral states. The Caspian Littoral states have signed an agreement regarding this issue and they are going to conclude more protocols on it later.
- Economic cooperation of the littoral states should be expanded through establishment of joint companies among the littoral states.
- The environment must be protected against all sources of pollution. Pollution in the Caspian Sea is a major issue. The littoral stats have concluded a convention in 2003 (Tehran Convention) to combat the pollution but they have not made much progress.
- Iran believes laying oil and gas pipelines on the seabed of the Caspian Sea can leave negative impacts in the Caspian Sea and it should be avoided to the extent possible. However, it seems this stance is directly related to the level of participation of Iran in such projects.
- Determination of an exclusive zone for littoral states. This idea has been discussed in many meetings of the Caspian littoral states and different figures have been proposed.
- The formula used by some littoral states of the Caspian Sea to delimit its seabed (the MML) is not accepted by all and their validity depends on the consensus of these states.
- Iranian Doctrine in the Caspian Sea/www.payvand.com/news/lo/dec./1260/html
About the author:
Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books.
His latest books were published in 2011:
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