Iran Rejects Azeri Complaints on Caspian Deal

TEHRAN (Reuters)–Iran on Wednesday rejected Azerbaijan’s protest against a Caspian oil exploration study between Tehran and foreign companies in the latest row over the new energy frontier–the official news agency IRNA said.

It quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi as saying the protest was "lacking legal basis based on the existing treaties."

Azerbaijan on Tuesday protested against the exploration study between Iran and foreign firms–saying the region in question encroached upon its sector of the sea.

A senior official said letters were sent to Britain’s LASMO and Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch/Shell. The two companies on Monday signed the deal with the National Iranian Oil Company to explore the disputed area in the south Caspian.

Vafa Guluzade–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev’s top aide–said that letters were also sent to the governmen’s of Caspian littoral states–protesting against the deal.

He said that if the $19 million exploration study went ahead–Azerbaijan would demand the consortium keep out of its area of the Caspian.

The Azerbaijan foreign ministry last week accused Iran of "unilateral" and "illegal" actions in going forward with the deal.

Azerbaijan says the Caspian should be divided up into sectors according to existing international maritime law–while Iran has argued for an equal distribution of its resources and a collective status agreement.

No firm deal on the Caspian’s status is yet on the horizon between the littoral states–which also include Kazakhstan and Russia.

The latest dispute over rights to the Caspian highlights its unresolved status seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union added three new littoral states to the sea shared previously only by Moscow and Tehran.

Asefi stressed that Iran believes that a collective legal regime based on 1921 and 1940 agreemen’s is still the best mechanism for cooperation on the Caspian–IRNA said.

He said that the Islamic Republic would only agree with "equal and complete division of the sea and its seabed."

Guluzade said the government had secured a promise from British Petroleum that it would not exercise an option to join the exploration deal in the face of Azeri opposition.

BP is involved in several other Caspian projects with Azerbaijan and leads the $8 billion Azerbaijan International Operating Company consortium.

Azerbaijan has also clashed with cross-sea neighbor Turkmen’stan over the Kipyaz offshore oil field. Both governmen’s claim Kipyaz as theirs.


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