No sign of end in Caspian dispute between Iran and Azerbaijan

Oct 15, 2002 02:00 AM

Iran and its neighbour Azerbaijan failed to make a breakthrough in a dispute over territorial rights in the oil-rich Caspian Sea after the two countries' heads of state met in Turkey, observers said. Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev, speaking a day after talks in Istanbul with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Khatami, said only that the two sides had agreed to continue talking.
Both countries are claiming the south-western corner of the inland sea, thought to hold massive oil and gas reserves, in a row which has come close to spilling over into armed confrontation. Aliyev and Khatami met on the sidelines of a summit of the 10-member Economic Cooperation Organisation in their first encounter since May.
"We agreed that our experts will continue their discussions," Aliyev told. "Consultations should be continued to work out a solution that is acceptable to both sides."

Expert working groups from Azerbaijan and Iran have been meeting regularly since May to come to a solution, but have sofar failed to come up with any concrete proposals. The Caspian is thought to hold the world's third-largest oil and gas reserves after the Persian Gulf and Siberia, much of it still untapped.
Three of the five Caspian states -- Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan -- have cut bilateral deals settling territorial disputes and are now pressing ahead with oil and gas exploration. But a deal between Iran and Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, is proving elusive. The last time Aliyev and Khatami met, in Tehran, the two heads of state could not even agree on what to call the sea.

Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev and his counterpart Mohammad Khatami signed bilateral agreements in the fields of economy and culture in Tehran 20 May 2002. Aliyev ended a three-day visit to Iran during which he pledged to boost his nation's ties with the Islamic republic. The visit aimed at ending the dispute over the neighbouring countries' rights to the oil wealth under the Caspian Sea.
In the summer of 2001 an Iranian warship threatened to fire on an Azeri vessel prospecting for oil in disputed waters and Iranian air force jets were reported flying over the area. Because of the row, an international consortium led by BP, operating out of Azerbaijan, has had to suspend exploration on one oil prospect while exploration on other blocks has also been frozen.

Source: AFP
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