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The Caspian Summit: a question of semantics?

03 October 2014 [09:35] - TODAY.AZ

By Claude Salhani

Senior editor of the English service of Trend Agency

At the base of the issues dividing the five countries that share the Caspian Sea is a question of semantics before everything else. Is the body of water being shared by Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan a sea or a lake?


What does it matter and what difference does it make?

Apparently it does matter. It matters a lot. International protocol over agreements differs greatly over mining rights between a sea and a lake. It matters little if the body of water in question is one and the same.

The legal status of the Caspian will decide whether it is a sea or a lake. If the Caspian Sea gains the status of a lake, its waters will be equally divided into five sectors. The status of the sea gives each of the five countries to have the right to exploit the resources in the territorial waters, the amount of which will depend on the length of its coastline. In this case, Iran will be in the most disadvantaged situation, while the greatest benefit will go to Kazakhstan.

Let us not forget what the Caspian represents: the worlds second most oil and gas-rich piece of real estate in the world after the Gulf region.

As long as the countries in question get to mine for the oil and gas found in the southern part of the body of water they could call it a sea, a lake, an ocean or even a bathtub for all the difference it would make.

The summit was a breakthrough "in bringing the Caspian littoral countries' positions together," Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said following the summit. No doubt the Azerbaijani president believes there has been a breakthrough. But did the Astrakhan meeting really achieve this breakthrough? A breakthrough means that someone at the negotiating table had to make a reasonable compromise.

This summit, according to the unanimous opinion of all parties, was the turning point in the talks on the status of the Caspian Sea. After many years of talks the five managed to agree upon key principles of the sea's status. As the heads of the five states said, the parties agreed on the principles of cooperation and inked a political statement, which precedes the signing of a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. The test will come at the next summit in Kazakhstan in 2016.



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