Russia Calls for Dialogue on Straits Issue

WASHINGTON (Itar-Tass)–"Russia hopes that Turkey will not take any unilateral steps to alter the shipping regime in the Black Sea Straits–since such problems can be peacefully settled with the help of the International Maritime Organization," roving Ambassador Yuri Merzlyakov–head of the foreign ministry’s working team for the Caspian Sea–told Itar-Tass–commenting on Turkey’s threat to toughen rules for the passage of tankers through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits.

As a member of the Russian delegation–he took part in a conference on the building of pipelines from the Caspian region–which ended Wednesday.

Former Turkish Foreign Minister Mithat Balkan–who took the floor during the conference–reaffirmed the intention of his country "to prevent the turning of he straits into a highway for super-tankers."

He said that Turkey was disturbed by the possible growth of shipping through the Bosphorus–caused by the growing extraction of Caspian oil and its transportation to Europe from Novorossiisk and Supsa. Ankara is planning to levy additional tariffs on the passage of ships through the straits–which–if need be–will make up for the possible ecological damages–and to allow only tankers with a double shell to use this waterway.

Touching on the difficulties of the Bosphorus fairway–Balkan said that ships have to make twelve turns of more than eighty degrees each on this route.

"We realize Turkey’s concern for its ecological safety," Merzlyakov noted. However–he recalled–the rules of shipping in the straits–which are an international sea way–were worked out by the International Maritime Organization–which is based in London–and no national regulations can be allowed to contradict them.

Moreover–the 1936 Montreux International Convention guaranteed the passage through these straits in peacetime of any ships belonging to the signatories of this agreement. Therefore–the Russian representative stressed that Turkey has no right to unilaterally enforce any limitations.

"Russia," he added–"has always moved to settle these problems jointly within the International Maritime Organization. And this is not only our stand. We are backed by all the other Black Sea nations. Turkey realizes that it has no leeway."

Merzlyakov said that according to the Lloyd Shipping Register–that the Bosphorus is able to cope with growing shipping by means of modern navigational equipment and better traffic regulations. Transportation of Caspian oil from the Black Sea ports will only slightly increase the burden on the straits. He added that the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s project–even when it reaches its full capacity–will add only one large tanker every 24 hours to the total number of ships passing through the straits.

The Russian envoy said that not all oil will pass through the Bosphorus–adding there were numerous alternate routes through Bulgaria–Romania and Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Minister for Fuel and Energy Vladimir Stenev–who took part in the conference–stated that Turkey was obviously "applying double standards" to this problem–since it was also using the Bosphorus waterway to bring oil from the Mediterranean.

Independent American experts also believe that Turkey has been exaggerating this problem. Most of them said that the main reason behind this row was Ankara’s desire to secure the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan.

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