Azerbaijan Tells Iran Not to Use Force in Caspian

BAKU (Reuters)–Azeri President Haidar Aliyev warned Iran on Tuesday against using force or threats in a bitter dispute between the two neighbors over how to carve up the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

Speaking to visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani in a meeting broadcast live on Azeri state television–Aliyev said such moves were "erroneous."

"Misunderstandings between Azerbaijan and Iran over the Caspian Sea are natural events," Aliyev said.

"Contradictions should be settled over the negotiating table," he added.

Tensions between the two Caspian coastal states flared up in July when an Iranian gunboat and a military aircraft ordered two Azeri research vessels hired by a British oil firm to retreat from an oil field claimed by both Tehran and Baku.

Aliyev said Baku was within its rights to explore blocks discovered by Azeri geologists from as early as 1949–and called for all littoral states to withdraw their navies from the Caspian.

Ahani rejected the approach and reiterated Tehran’s stance that no work should be carried out on disputed fields before a solution is reached.

Despite the gap in positions–both sides agreed to push ahead with talks to find a compromise.

Their diplomats are due to meet next in September during a gathering of deputy foreign ministers from the Caspian coastal states.

The five Caspian neighbors – Azerbaijan–Iran–Kazakhstan–Russia and Turkmen’stan – remain split on how to divide the inland sea and its huge oil and gas reserves.

Iran and Turkmen’stan see it as a lake and want it cut into five equal national sectors.

But Russia–Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have said they prefer to view the Caspian as a sea. In this case–Iran and Turkmen’stan each would get less than the 20 percent of the sea they aspire to.

On Tuesday–Turkmen’stan postponed a summit of leaders of the five states until an unspecified later date. Azeri leader to visit Iran amid Caspian spat.

Azerbaijan hit back at Caspian neighbor Turkmen’stan last week–rejecting a warning that its oil exploration in a disputed part of the Caspian Sea was illegal.

Ashgabat last month told Baku to stop work on two contested oil fields or "be answerable for the consequences."

Azeri President Haydar Aliyev will travel to Iran next month–an Iranian official said in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku on Wednesday–amid disagreement between the two states over Caspian Sea territorial claims.

Aliyev’s planned visit comes at a tense time when the two countries have been looking to avoid a full-blown quarrel over rights to oil and gas fields beneath the Caspian Sea.

Visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani–who discussed the Caspian Sea issue with Aliyev on Tuesday–told reporters before departing on Wednesday that Aliyev would travel to Iran on September 17.

Security and economy officials will travel ahead of the Azeri leader to prepare documen’s to be signed during his visit.

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