On July 31-August 1, Russia’s deputy foreign affairs minister and presidential envoy for Caspian issues, Viktor Kalyuzhny, conferred with the Iranian leaders in Tehran on Caspian mineral rights and related issues of the Caspian Sea’s legal status. The discussions in Iran capped those conducted by Kalyuzhny in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan during the course of July, on essentially the same set of Russian proposals. Those three countries turned down or cold-shouldered Kalyuzhny’s proposals in one way or another. His Tehran visit, moreover, resulted in an open rift between Russia and Iran on the Caspian Sea’s legal status.
Moscow and Tehran had long jointly opposed the division of the Caspian Sea and continental shelf into national sovereign sectors, which the three other riparian countries favored. During the past year or so, however, Russia and Iran began parting ways. Moscow accepted the principle of sectoral division of the seabed only, opposing the division of the water body and water surface. Tehran embraced the principle of full sectoral division–seabed, water body and water surface–on the condition that the sea and seabed are divided equally among the five riparian countries, with Iran thus receiving a share of 20 percent.
With the failure of Kalyuzhny’s discussions in Tehran, the rift came into the open and is now officially acknowledged on both sides. The tone turned acrimonious, with Iran rejecting all three versions of Russia’s proposal for a five-country meeting. Those versions envisaged an expert-level meeting, one of the foreign affairs ministers or their deputies, and one of the heads of state of Caspian countries. Russia wanted the meetings held this August or in September in Astrakhan or in Moscow. But the Iranian countered that holding a meeting any time soon would be “counterproductive,” due to the differences between Moscow and the other Caspian countries.
Turkmenistan, too, publicly turned down the Russian invitation in terms similar to Iran’s. The two countries then held bilateral talks at which they decided to coordinate their negotiating positions. Kalyuzhny’s failure seems the more stinging in view of the fact that he had presented his proposals as President Vladimir Putin’s innovations and personal contribution to the discussions on the Caspian Sea’s legal status. Back in Moscow, Kalyuzhny–with an eye not just to Iran but to other Caspian countries as well–reaffirmed that sectoral division is “unacceptable to Russia” (Itar-Tass, RIA, IRNA, Turan, July 31, August 1-3; Neytralny Turkmenistan, August 4; see the Monitor, May 26, July 7, 12, 19; Fortnight in Review, July 7).
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