The Special Working Group (SWG) for drafting a Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the littoral states met for its 41st session in Moscow on September 8-10. The talks were attended by delegations from Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan headed by deputy foreign ministers. The key issues of the discussion were, as usual, determination of the sea median line, creation of the joint navigation system and arrangement for the collaborative marine researches in the Caspian Sea.
At present, the Caspian countries agreed on a number of issues on the future legal status of the Caspian basin. For instance, during the IV Caspian Summit held in Astrakhan in 2014 leaders of the littoral states agreed to recognize a 15-nautical mile sovereignty space adjacent to each country’s shoreline and the exclusive right for each country to fish an additional 10 nautical miles beyond the 15-mile zone. Besides, the five presidents of the Caspian states inked the political declaration, which reflected the fundamental principle for guaranteeing stability and security. Indeed, the following declaration could be a cornerstone of the future Convention.
However, there are still many issues that have not been completely settled. For instance, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran have not reached a final agreement on demarcation of the southern part of the Caspian Sea yet. It is quite obvious that without resolving the problem about the differences over the seabed division in the southern part of the Caspian Sea, it does not seem to be possible to launch an agreement on the Caspian Sea delimitation between national seabed sectors of the coastal states that are adjacent and opposite to each other.
Nowadays, only two sectors of the Caspian Sea bed are officially marked. Kazakhstan and Russia have finished the process of demarcation of the national seabed sectors. The Russian sector of the seabed has been marked under agreements between Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan signed in 1998-2003. Documents on final demarcation of Kazakhstan’s part of the Caspian Sea bed were inked in 2014 with a relevant agreement signed with Turkmenistan.
Nevertheless, these agreements could not guarantee that the final solution to the legal status of coastal states would be grounded on the usage of a midline modified method. Currently, the legal status of the Caspian Sea is still based on bilateral treaties between Iran and the USSR dated back to 1921 and 1940. That is why there is the possibility that the division of the Caspian Sea would be made in accordance with Iranian approach, namely, into five equal parts of 20% share each. Therefore, talks about the legal status of the Caspian Sea could successfully end only after reaching a consensus over the delimitation methodology.
Despite the fact that the states of “Caspian Five” have not been able to come on a common agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea for more than 20 years, there are some positive signs of reaching a final agreement. Namely, the representatives of the countries, participating in a meeting in Moscow, expressed their satisfaction with its results and announced that has been successfully prepared. The similar conclusions were made during the previous Session of the SWG on the Convention about the legal status of the Caspian Sea that was held in Tehran in June 2015.
Therefore, it should be admitted that the littoral countries have intensified their cooperation on working out on the convention about the legal status of the Caspian Sea hoping to achieve significant progress in drafting principals of the future legal status of the Caspian Sea at the forthcoming V Caspian Summit in Kazakhstan. Moreover, in accordance with the most optimistic scenario, the parties could even manage to sign the final Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Russian and Kazakh governmental official have already declared their intention to contribute to the efforts on finalizing the Convention, which should be ready to be signed in 2016.
However, positive assessment of the SWG meeting’s results could not automatically form appropriate conditions for transforming the Caspian region into an oasis of peace and true good-neighborliness. The process for drafting a Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea by the SWG is still in progress. Moreover, the lack of detailed information about the exact context of the SWG talks hampers further analysis and forecasting. It already became natural that negotiation parties are not too eager to indicate concrete progress made during the Special Working Group meetings. The fact is that the sessions of the SWG have a closed meeting format. Therefore, the delegates from “Caspian Five” have no opportunity to disclosure results obtained during the intergovernmental consultations. The public generally discovers confidential information over the Caspian delimitation issue during the Caspian Summits when the heads of littoral states personally report on the progress made to date. Therefore, the 42nd session of the SWG meeting, which would be held in Kazakhstan in near future, also may not provide enough information about the efforts that are made to solve the problems about the convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.
However, it should be mentioned that at the highest level the parties show their willingness and ability to work on a mutual, acceptable and compromise solution. Therefore, reaching an agreement over the Convention is in the long-term interests of all countries that take part in the process.