17 August AFP

Iranian delegation to visit Azerbaijan for Caspian talks

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A high-level Iranian delegation is to visit Azerbaijan later this month in a bid to defuse the boundary dispute between the two countries, the Azeri foreign ministry said on Friday.

It is hoped the talks will prepare the ground for a possible resolution of the row when Azeri President Heydar Aliyev visits Iran in September, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Long-standing disagreements between Baku and Tehran over how to divide up the Caspian Sea, which both countries border, boiled over last month when an Iranian warship trained its guns on an Azeri oil research vessel.

No specific date was given for the visit by the Iranian delegation, which will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Ahani.

The visit was agreed during a telephone conversation late Thursday between Azeri Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliyev and his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharazi, said the statement.

"Iran's foreign minister expressed the sincere belief that all the issues between the two countries, including the problems of the Caspian, will be discussed and, during (Aliyev's) forthcoming visit to Tehran, solutions will be found," the statement added.

The five states with Caspian coastlines -- Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- are at loggerheads about how to divide up the inland sea. At stake are the massive oil and gas reserves there.

Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan all support keeping the status quo in the Caspian, under which each country's share of the sea corresponds roughly to their national boundaries.

But Tehran, backed by Turkmenistan, wants the divison renegotiated to give each of the littoral states an equal share of the sea, an arrangement which would put at least two Azeri oil fields inside Iranian territory.

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