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Caspian Sea: Iran is getting ready to accept the realities


By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

Caspian Sea Countries:
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan

For more than two decades Iran has been insisting on having an equal share of the Caspian Sea along with other littoral states (Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan).  Even when Iran was talking about the principle of equity in the international law, it was intended to be at least twenty percent of the Caspian Sea.  But now, right before the draft convention on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is presented to the summit conference of the littoral states ( it will be held at early 2018 in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan), Iranian deputy foreign minister who is the special envoy of Iran on the Caspian issues has declared: "after 26 years from the collapse of the USSR, it is necessary to define the legal regime of the Caspian Sea as soon as possible...  Some persons are talking about Iran's twenty percent share of the Caspian Sea.  But Iran's share from the Caspian Sea is not 20 percent.  The claims about 20 percent for Iran are not compatible with the legal and international logic and I do not know where they have come from...  We are not supposed to divide the Caspian Sea into five equal parts.  The topic of Caspian Seabed is mentioned in general terms in the draft convention for the legal regime of the Caspian Sea and the issue of delimitation will be followed out of the context of the convention until we reach a proper and just consensus."  (1)  He later added: "the Caspian Sea is not a melon or watermelon that should be divided in 5 equal parts between the kids...We have a good situation in the Cassian Sea and the US and the UK are not present and they are not allowed to be present in the Caspian Sea" (2).

No other country in the Caspian Sea has been ready to take claims of Iran regarding 20 percent of the Caspian seabed or waters seriously.  Russia and Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have already divided the seabed of the Caspian Sea according to the Russian proposed formula of the Modified Median Line which divides the seabed on the basis of the length of coasts and leaves the superjacent waters as common. Using this formula will leave Iran with less than 13 percent of the Caspian Sea.

Caspian Sea from space (NASA, June 4, 2010)

Although it is sometimes difficult for Iranians to accept that they will not have an equal share of the Caspian Sea, the conditions are not ready for Iran to have anything seriously different from this figure.  Perhaps if Iran had a better international situation, regional prestige or power, it could try to work on legal arguments such as the historical rights (like what is going on in the South China Sea), or try to take the case to the international forums for some kind of litigation or arbitration.  However, all indications show that first of all Iran does not have such power or prestige, it is suffering from one-sided dependence on the Russians in many international issues ( Iran and Russia have not common interests on the issue of the legal regime of the Caspian Sea) , and if the case goes to the international forums, the result of a case that on one side is Iran and the other side is all other Caspian Sea states plus their supporters, will be definitely against Iran.

Under these conditions, the recent remarks of the Iranian Caspian Sea official indicate that:

  1. Iran is ready to accept something around 13 percent of the Caspian Sea.
  2. The issue of delimitation of the seabed between Iran-Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan will not be included or settled in the Convention on the Legal Regime of the Caspian Sea.
  3. Unlike the past, Iran is ready to accept the bilateral divisions made among the other Caspian States.
  4. Iran and Russia are more concerned about keeping the Western countries, especially the US out of the Caspian Sea and this is more important for them than the legal regime of the resources.
  5. Iran will not have access to disputed parts of the Caspian Sea which were left as indeterminate pending the adoption of the legal regime. These include the most important known oil and gas fields.
  6. Iran is making the public opinions inside the country and among Iranians out of the country ready for this new situation.

(1) and (2):

About the author:

Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books.  His latest books were published in 2011:


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