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No Deal at Caspian Summit on Sharing Sea..


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No Deal At Caspian Summit On Sharing Sea (Isachenkov, AP)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


By Vladimir Isachenkov

Leaders of the five nations around the Caspian Sea failed to agree Tuesday on how to divide the inland water body, a prize at the center of the global struggle for access to oil and natural gas.

Short on substance, the summit did produce aggressive statements by Russia and Iran - two countries deeply wary of Western influence - warning against outside interference in the region of increasingly assertive resource-rich states.

Eager to maintain his country's dominance over the delivery of oil and gas to the West from the Central Asian states on the Caspian's eastern shore, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued that pipelines from the region should only be built if all five nations support them.

He cited concerns about the environment, an issue that critics say Moscow has used as a pretext to squeeze Western companies out of energy projects on its own soil. The remarks were likely to deepen Western worries about Russia's use of its energy muscle.

"Projects that may inflict serious environmental damage to the region cannot be implemented without prior discussion by all five Caspian nations," Putin said, apparently suggesting each capital should have a virtual veto on energy transport.

But the response was muted from some of the other leaders, who are seeking a balance between Russia, the West and Asia. Turkmen President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev avoided the issue entirely, apparently trying to avoid a clash with Putin.

President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan said that "pipeline routes need to be coordinated with nations whose territory they cross," but he refrained from mentioning any need for the consensus advocated by Putin.

In Baku, Azerbaijan, political analyst Ilgar Mamedov said the Russian leader's remarks represented "Putin's opinion" and were not "an end of this conversation." Caspian nations "are independent and act in accordance with their own interests," he said.

Since the Soviet collapse of 1991 left four former Soviet republics on the sea's shore along with Iran, the U.S. and Europe have made inroads in gaining access to its energy reserves, with major projects in Azerbaijan's rich deposits in the sea's west and pipelines leading to Turkey.

The United States and European Union want new pipelines to carry oil and gas across the Caspian from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan and farther west, bypassing Russia.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the summit host, also underlined the need to keep outsiders out of the region.

"All Caspian nations agree on the main issue - that all aspects related to this sea must be settled exclusively by littoral nations," he said. "The Caspian Sea is an inland sea and it only belongs to the Caspian states; therefore only they are entitled to have their ships and military forces here."

The five leaders adopted a declaration against the use of force in resolving disputes among themselves. They also said Caspian states must not allow outside countries to use their territory for attacks on others in the region - a reference to concerns about a potential U.S. attack on Iran.

But they appeared no closer to resolving the legal status of the sea, which has been in limbo since the Soviet collapse. The lack of clarity has led to conflicting claims to seabed oil deposits, including a dispute between Iran and Azerbaijan on their offshore border.

Iran, which shared the Caspian's resources equally with the Soviet Union, insists that each coastal nation receive an equal portion of the seabed. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want the division based on the length of each nation's shore, which would give Iran a smaller share.

Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have signed their own bilateral deals dividing 64 percent of the sea among them. Iran does not recognize the agreements, but the countries have used the deals to start developing oil and gas resources in the sea's northern areas.

The Caspian is also home to several varieties of sturgeon, the source of premium caviar.

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The reason why I find this interesting is because the United States and Europe are trying to build an oil pipeline across the caspian sea in order to bypass Russia. Thus Putin is very wary of that.

Also with all the talk of bombing Iran, there is some talk that we would use our bases in the Stan's to conduct our bombing campagne. This "Caspian" resolution would seem to dispute our ability to use American basis in the region against Iran.

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