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Iran's look at the Caspian Sea is security oriented

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

Presidents of Caspian Sea countries signing the agreement on August 12
(photo by Islamic Republic News Agency

The share of Iran from the Caspian Sea will be the smallest part of this body of water.  None of the other littoral states (Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan) of the Caspian Sea is ready to accept anything more than this for Iran.  At the same time, the Iranian part of the Caspian Sea (almost 13 percent of the Caspian Sea) has not any important oil and gas resources that is so far identified by any method.  Even if new and economical resources of oil and gas are found in this sector in future, their exploration and exploitation requires high investment and technology (this sector is the deepest part of the Caspian Sea).  Iran has none of them in the proper level.  Again, if it has any of them, it would be easier and more profitable for Iran to use them in other places (such as the Persian Gulf).  Therefore, it is possible to say: Caspian Sea has not high economic priority for Iran. 

On the other hand, the Caspian Sea and its littoral states can pose a security threat for the regime of Iran.  Most of the Caspian littoral states are very interested in having good relations with the Western, especially the US, government and companies.  Azerbaijan Republic is an ally of the US and it has very close relations with Israel.  In recent years, when the issue of a possible attack against Iran has been discussed, Azerbaijan is named as a possible route for this.  Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan attach great importance to the Western companies for development of their resources in the Caspian Sea.

While conflicts between Iran and US is still widespread and peaceful solutions for removing the conflicts are not so promising due to the policies of the Iranian regime (the US and its allies want  Iran to stop regional interfering and support of terrorism) , the possibility of confrontation is growing.  If this happens, the Caspian littoral states, except then Russia, will be in the opposite side of Iranian regime.  For the same reason, the regime in Iran that attaches the highest priority to its survival, is more concerned about the military-security issues in The Caspian Sea, rather than resources in the seabed or even Iran's share of the whole area.   The regime in Iran has been using every legal and political occasion, to block the presence on non-littoral states, especially the US, in the Caspian Sea, with cooperation of the Russians who have similar worries.  Iran and Russia have used all meetings of the Caspian littoral states in the last twenty years or so to put pressures on the other Caspian sates to keep the West out of the region. 

The recently concluded Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, has not really anything about the most important issue that it was supposed to address: the legal regime of the Caspian Sea or in fact what belongs to whom in the area.  Some of the relevant officials of the states have indicated that these matters such as the criteria for delimitation of the national sectors of the Caspian littoral states, will be determined in other documents later.  If so, what was the hurry to conclude an agreement which is not solving the problem?  The answer is in the chapters of the new convention prohibiting the presence of non-littoral sates in the Caspian Sea and the commitments of the littoral states not to let their territory in the Caspian Sea (without knowing where it is exactly) to be used for attacking others.

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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