19 December AFP

Azerbaijan hits out at Iran's "unconstructive" Caspian approach


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A senior aide to Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev on Wednesday accused Iran of obstructing efforts to resolve the international dispute over mineral rights in the oil-rich Caspian Sea. "In the 10 years of negotiations to settle the status of the Caspian, Iran has not taken a single constructive step," Rustam Mamedov, the presidential aide responsible for Caspian issues told AFP.

"It is not hard to prove that Iran got its sector of the sea in Soviet times and that today it has no right to demand a bigger share at the expense of other Caspian states." Iran and its neighbour Turkmenistan want the boundaries in the Caspian redrawn to give them parts of the sea belonging to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Efforts to negotiate a settlement have foundered and most recently a mini-summit in Moscow was scrapped because, the Russian foreign ministry said, Iran and Turkmenistan saw no need for talks.

Mamedov added that Iran's opposition to recently-signed bilateral agreements on the Caspian between Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan "only goes to show the absolutely unconstructive position of Iran."

"That position is designed to undermine the development of new states like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan whose only means of survival in difficult conditions is to exploit their energy resources."

If the Caspian dispute were to go to international arbitration, "I am absolutely certain that Iran would lose in a big way," said Mamedov. Uncertainty over who owns which parts of the Caspian is holding up development of oil and gas fields there, which are thought to be on a par with the reserves in the North Sea.

Oil major BP has been forced to suspend exploration work in the disputed Alov-Sharg-Araz field since an Iranian warship threatened to fire on an Azeri oil research vessel there in July this year.

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