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Caspian Sea States Gather In Baku For Summit

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev (right) and his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad meet in Baku at the beginning of the weekend summit.
BAKU -- Leaders from the five Caspian littoral states are gathering in Baku for the fourth Caspian summit to discuss the sea's legal status, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The heads of Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, and perhaps Turkmenistan are to meet on November 18-20 to discuss the the territorial division of the Caspian Sea and the establishment of the Caspian Economic Cooperation Organization.

It is the third time the Caspian Sea littoral state leaders will have met in Baku in an effort to draw up a suitable legal regime for the sea in order to divide its natural resources.

The sides are also due to sign a joint declaration and security agreements.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said that "a security agreement, environmental issues, and fishing issues" would be on the summit's agenda as well.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived in Baku on November 17 and held talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev. The presidents praised the development of bilateral ties in recent years and said they discussed international issues.

Foreign Ministers Elmar Mammadyarov of Azerbaijan and Manuchehr Mottaki of Iran also signed a memorandum on cooperation in the energy and transportation spheres.

Ilham Shaban, president of the Baku-based Center of Oil Research, says the summit will not make any progress towards resolving the problem of the Caspian Sea's status.

"Russia and Iran are the two superpowers among the Caspian littoral states that have their own ambitions," Shaban says. "Russia's aim is to hinder the realization of any pipeline joining the eastern and western sides of the Caspian. Iran is trying to exaggerate the Caspian status issue and turn it into an object of political bargaining through which it could gain something from the West. Iran demands the equal division of the Caspian among the five littoral states, which is absolutely illogical, but forms the core of [Tehran's] bargaining."

Shaban says Iran could agree to a trans-Caspian natural-gas pipeline in exchange for some easing of the international economic sanctions against it.

The trans-Caspian project is a proposed underwater pipeline from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan. According to some proposals, it will also include a connection to the Tengiz oil field in Kazakhstan, considered one of the 10 largest in the world.

If built, the pipeline would be able to transport energy resources from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Central Europe, circumventing both Russia and Iran.