Turkmens Want Azeri Talks on Oil

ASHGABAT (Reuter)–Turkmen’stan’s foreign ministry has offered to hold talks with Azeri experts to try to resolve disputes over ownership of oil fields in the Caspian which both countries claim–a Turkmen official said Thursday.

"We propose to convene the expert commission with the participation of lawyers–cartographers and oil industry representatives in the first half of October," Deputy Foreign Minister Yelbars Kepbanov told Reuters.

He said the bilateral commission would tackle the issue of territorial disputes between the two former Soviet republics vying for property rights over several large oil deposits in the Caspian.

Bitter disputes among the five littoral states–Russia–Azerbaijan–Turkmen’stan–Iran and Kazakhstan – over who owns what under the body of water threaten to hold up the quick development of its enormous mineral wealth.

Russia and Iran’say the oil belongs to all five states–while the other three countries have divided the Caspian into sections and are proceeding to develop their own territories.

Kepbanov said the joint commission could lessen tensions between Turkmen’stan and Azerbaijan caused by the disputes.

Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR in July signed a $1 billion deal with Russia’s largest oil company LUKoil and state oil company Rosneft–aimed at developing the Kyapaz oil field with reserves of 50 million metric tons of crude.

The Turkmens–who call the field "Serdar," consider it their own.

The Azeri-Russian contract has fallen through after Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared it null and void.

More importantly–Turkmen’stan considers another field called Azeri its property–and a third deposit known as Chirag as partly belonging to it.

But Azerbaijan has already signed a contract for their development worth $8 billion with an international consortium led by British Petroleum and Statoil of Norway.

"As for the future status (of the sea)–there must be the decision of all five states–this issue cannot be decided on a bilateral basis," Kepbanov said.

But he said Turkmen’stan insists that the so-called "principle of condominium" could be the best solution for territorial disputes in the Caspian.

"In line with this principle–the 45-mile littoral zone is under the jurisdiction of each separate state–while the middle of the sea should be used by all the states," he said.STRASBOURG–France

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