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Russia/Kazakhstan: Yeltsin, Nazarbayev Ink Accord On Caspial Oil Rights

Moscow, 6 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan signed a landmark accord today in Moscow on dividing up resources in the northern sector of the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

The accord also allows for free navigation and fishing in the northern Caspian, which borders both countries. It ends a long-running dispute between Russia and Kazakhstan about the division of drilling rights in the oil-rich Caspian.

Meanwhile, countries that border the southern Caspian --Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran -- have yet to agree on the rights to resources there. Iran opposes the Russian-Kazakh agreement. Tehran wants the Caspian's energy resources shared rather than divided.

The document signed by Yeltsin and Nazarbayev was drafted in April. But the signing was postponed twice because of what the Russian Foreign Ministry calls "minor technical reasons."

The Kazakh Embassy in Moscow said the agreement stipulates that the northern Caspian seabed is divided between Russia and Kazakhstan while sea waters would be shared by both countries, allowing free navigation and fishing.

Until today, Russia had insisted that the Caspian was a lake rather than a sea and that all five countries bordering it had equal exploration rights.

In addition to oil and gas resources, the Caspian Sea also is home to the Beluga sturgeon, source of the most valuable caviar in the world. Today's agreement allows Russians and Kazakhs to fish anywhere in the northern Caspian.

Oil industry estimates of the Caspian Sea reserves vary between 25,000 million barrels to as much as 200,000 million barrels. The smallest estimates are about equal to the size of reserves in the North Sea.

Twelve international oil companies are now developing oil fields near the shores of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Among them are British Petroleum, Statoil, Total, and Amoco Corporation.

Several additional bilateral cooperation agreements are expected to be signed during Nazarbayev's Moscow visit.