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20 Jun, 2007 07:03

Caspian co-operation discussed in Tehran

Russian Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov is due to meet Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for talks as part of his visit to the country's capital Tehran. He has announced that Iran's controversial nuclear programme will not be on the agenda and the focus

It is also expected Russia and Iran will discuss the Russian proposal to jointly use, with the U.S., a radar base in Azerbaijan against the potential threat of Iranian missiles – a move considered as an unfriendly one in Iran.

Mr Lavrov has already met with the foreign ministers of Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan for discussions of the boundaries on the Caspian seafloor. This sensitive issue has been a point of contention between the countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan insist that the seabed and the gas and oil underneath should be divided into national sectors, the size of which would be roughly proportional to the length of each state's coastline. In this case Iran only gets 14% of the bottom with the least proven resources and faces considerable economic losses. So Iran wants the seabed to be split into five equal pieces – a position no other state supports.

In 2003 Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan signed a series of bilateral agreements effectively dividing the northern part of the Caspian among themselves. Iran does not recognise these accords and insists multilateral agreements should govern the legal status of the sea.

As it was largely expected, Wednesday's meeting has failed to bring any major breakthrough. The ministers did not agree on a draft convention to regulate the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

Meanwhile, many countries are following the situation in the Caspian, the United States and Great Britain in particular. They have their companies already operating in the region, namely in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. So these Western countries would not like any sudden changes in the area, which could threaten their operations there.