Foreign Ministers Boris Shikhmuradov of Turkmenistan and Hasan Hasanov of Azerbaijan agreed yesterday in Ashgabat on two fundamental issues. First, that the Caspian Sea should be divided into national sectors. Second, that the two countries shall delimit their respective sectors according to the median line principle. Yesterday’ meeting inaugurated the bilateral negotiations on the matter and established the basic parameters of the negotiations. They were initiated by Presidents Saparmurat Niazov and Haidar Aliev, who agreed last December to set up a joint commission, co-chaired by their foreign ministers, for this purpose. (International agencies, February 5)
The agreement means that Turkmenistan has joined Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Western countries in supporting the sectoral division of the Caspian Sea among the riparian nations on the basis of international law. Russia and Iran are now isolated as the only countries that still support the "condominium" principle, which would treat the Caspian Sea as a lake in which the international law of the sea is not applicable. Moscow’s approach implies common jurisdiction by all riparian states with regard to surface, bottom and natural resources. This approach would have given Moscow a "right" to share both in Azerbaijan’s, Kazakhstan’s and Turkmenistan’s oil and gas resources and in those countries’ arrangements with Western partners.
Turkmenistan had wavered for some time between the Russian-Iranian and the Azerbaijani-Kazakh positions. In 1996-97, Ashgabat was temporarily tempted by a Russian compromise proposal to create national sectors up to a 45-mile limit and a large "condominium" zone in the middle of the Caspian Sea. That scheme, if implemented, might have enabled Turkmenistan to share in three large oilfields — Chirag-I, Azeri and Kapaz/Serdar — which are situated close to the middle of the Caspian Sea and are controlled by Azerbaijan. Those three fields are a subject of the Azerbaijani-Turkmen negotiations that will now proceed from the sectoral division principle.
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