The leaders of Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and the Republic of Azerbaijan’s signed a regional convention regarding the legal regime of the Caspian Sea during their summit in Aktau, Kazakhstan on Sunday August 12.
While Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has described the summit as one of great “importance,” some Iranians are worried that Iran’s rights in the Caspian Sea could be compromised by the new agreement.
Rouhani has vaguely said before leaving Tehran for Kazakhstan Sunday morning that the five leaders were going to discuss “the major principle related to the legal regime of Caspian Sea.”
The “principle of consensus” distinguishes the new convention from the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, Rouhani said.
While the UN convention of the Law of the Sea clearly delineates maritime borders based on distance from the shores and other geographic criteria, what Rouhani said about a consensus refers to the fact that the five countries agreed to observe an arbitrary delineation that ultimately limits Iran’s share of the Caspian Sea to a minimum.
Rouhani also declared that an important point of the convention will be the agreement that no foreign military traffic in the Sea will be permitted. ‘The point is of great importance to the national security of the littoral countries,’ IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying. Rouhani added the convention would be implemented the day after it is signed.
However, regardless of what the five countries agreed upon on Sunday, based on a 2003 tripartite accord between Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, they have divided 68% of the sea among themselves long before sitting down at the summit to determine the fate of the Caspian.
Some Iranians, particularly those on social media have expressed concern that what the five leaders decide will ultimately harm Iran’s interests.
They fear that while Iran and the Soviet Union each owned 50 percent of the sea before the collapse of the USSR, now Russia is going to take advantage of Iran’s weakness in the international arena and its partial dependency on Russia, to reduce Iran’s share to a maximum of 20 percent.
Rouhani could have been aware of Iranians’ dissatisfaction about the deal on the Caspian Sea, when he said in Aktau that Iran has to have the deal approved by its parliament in Tehran. However, it is not clear what happens if the parliament (Majles) rejects the Aktau convention.
Based on the proceedings of four previous summits, some Iranians even fear that Iran’s share of the Caspian Sea might even be limited to 11 percent.
Reformist MP Mahmoud Sadeqi has asked in a tweet, “Is this right that Iran’s 50% share of the Caspian Sea has been reduced to 11%?”
A member of the Iranian delegation assured reporters in Aktau on Saturday alongside a meeting of the five countries’ foreign ministers that “no documents concerning various countries’ share of the sea will be signed at the summit.”
Rouhani had said before leaving Tehran that “Baselines with regard to the coastal morphology and in accordance with the UN Convention, as well as the issues related to seabed will be discussed and settled in the future meetings.”
Iran, Russia and the other three countries failed to reach an agreement about these issues since 1991.
Shahram Rafizadeh. A well-known Iranian commentator,tweeted, “Russia has devoured Syria, and now it is going to have the Caspian Sea.”
Farhad Mortaz tweeted that “If they consider the Caspian to be a sea, Iran’s share of it would be 20%, but if they consider it a lake, Iran’s share would be only 13 percent.”
Referring to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s second track diplomacy with Russia which was marked by his top adviser’s recent meeting with Putin, Mina Varshochi wrote in a tweet, “Rouhani is in Kazakhstan to taste a broth made by two chefs,” alluding to the proverb “too many chefs spoil the broth.”
Estimates put the Caspian Sea’s oil reserves at 50 billion barrels and nine trillion cubic metres of natural gas. The Caspian Sea is also the richest source of caviar in the world.