Putin Says Concerned By Use of Force in Caspian

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned on Thursday the use of force in the disputed Caspian Sea–after Azerbaijan complained of gunboat diplomacy by Iran.

Interfax news agency quoted Putin as saying Russia was concerned by rising tensions in the Caspian and urging a final agreement on who controls which sectors of the sea.

Last month Azerbaijan protested to Tehran after an Iranian gunship and a military aircraft threatened two oil exploration ships in what it claims as the Azeri sector of the Caspian Sea.

British oil giant BP–which was operating the survey vessels–said it had suspended exploration work in that area of the sea around its Araz-Alov-Sharg oil concession. Iran calls the same block Alborz.

The division of the Caspian between the five littoral states–Iran–Russia–Kazakhstan–Azerbaijan and Turkmen’stan–remains unresolved despite protracted talks.

Putin said everything should be done to ensure that "the Caspian Sea is a sea of peace and calm and that all questions arising are resolved by exclusively peaceful means through direct dialogue."

The principles of international law should also be taken into account–the Russian leader said at the Black Sea resort of Sochi following an informal summit of leaders of around a dozen former Soviet republics.

Russia–Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have already found some common ground–but analysts say the positions of Iran and Turkmen’stan make any agreement unlikely.

Itar-Tass news agency quoted Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as saying in Sochi that there was no disagreement between Russia–Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on the question of dividing up the Caspian Sea along median lines.

These are hypothetical lines drawn up for areas where specific maritime boundaries between countries have not been declared.

"The CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries are the successors of the Soviet Union and recognize the existing borders–including external political ones. In as far as the border with Iran has been determined any reconsideration could lead to grievous consequences," he said.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991–the Caspian’s status was governed by agreemen’s between the Soviet Union and Iran. Tehran has said the littoral states should decide jointly on the Caspian’s energy riches or grant Iran a 20 percent share of its resources.

Nazarbayev said Russian and Kazakh experts had been given the task of preparing a report on dividing the landlocked sea by median lines by the end of the year.

A new round of talks between the leaders of the five littoral states is due to take place in Turkmen’stan in October.

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