Russia Kazakhstan to Sign Caspian Deal by April 28

MOSCOW (Reuters)–The Presidents of Russia and Kazakhstan on Thursday ordered their respective governmen’s to sign an agreement by April 28 on dividing the Caspian Sea "on the principle of equal distance," Interfax news agency reported.

The agency cited Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as saying "the surface of the sea will remain shared–with agreement reached over joint measures for the preservation and use of its bioresources."

He was speaking after a meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin.

Itar-Tass news agency added that Nazarbayev said an agreement had already been prepared.

"It was prepared by our ministers of foreign affairs in Astrakhan (on Russia’s Caspian coast) and they have agreed to divide the seabed of the Caspian on the basis of equal distance from the shore,” he said.

"That is just the seabed–and not the water in the sea–as some states have said,” he added–saying that the sea itself would be demilitarized and shared generally.

He said that of the Caspian littoral states–including Turkmen’stan–Azerbaijan and Iran as well as Russia and Kazakhstan – Iran alone had no borders with either Russia or Kazakhstan.

"We do not border with Iran. At the end of the day they can work out their problems themselves,” he said.

Russia had earlier been against attempts to divide both the seabed and the sea into national sectors–and Iran had supported this line.

But Russia changed its view and backed Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan–which argued for the delineation of the seabed but not the water itself–Itar-Tass added.

Interfax reported from the Kazakh capital Almaty that the Kazakh foreign minister–Kasymzhomart Tokayev–doubted that the status of the sea would be determined this year.

"A final decision on the definition of the status of the Caspian can hardly be expected this year,” he was reported as saying.

Uncertainty over the status of the Caspian has held back oil development in the resource-rich water body–although an $8-billion international consortium is already producing off the shores of Azerbaijan.

Russia and Kazakhstan clashed recently over a Caspian oil deposit which Russia tendered–but which Kazakhstan claimed lay partly in its sector of the Caspian.

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