The Caspian Convention: New Milestones on a Long Road
The High-Level Working Group on the Caspian Sea held its first meeting on February 19 in Baku. The group was created to effectively implement last year’s Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and consists of ministers from the five littoral states. This initial meeting focused on two things: setting procedural rules of the group, and moving towards ratification of the Convention by each country’s legislative body. Over the last several months, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan have all ratified the agreement in their legislatures; Russia and Iran have not.
Russian media had expressed hope in September that the Convention would soon be ratified after its initial signing. Ambassador at Large of the Russian Foreign Ministry Igor Bratchikov, Russia’s representative at this week’s meeting, told reporters that he hoped a second Working Group meeting would be held in the coming months. The official enthusiasm for moving the Convention forward reflects the fact that Russia got what it was hoping for from the deal: The Convention dictates that the Caspian Sea is closed to any non-littoral states’ militaries. Though its parliament has yet to ratify the agreement, there appear to be few obstacles to doing so.
The story is different in Iran. The Convention leaves Iran with the smallest portion of the Caspian, a major blow for a power that formerly regarded the sea as equally shared between Iran and the USSR. Many of Iran’s parliamentarians criticized the deal, among them Mahmoud Sadeqi, who tweeted the question, “Is it true that Iran’s 50 percent share [of the Caspian] fell to 11 percent?” Sadeqi and his colleagues in Iran’s legislature have the final say in whether Iran ratifies the convention.
The group has its work cut out for it in other areas. The Convention left several hot-button issues on the Sea to be negotiated at a later date, and many of these negotiations will likely take place under the Working Group’s auspices. For example, the resource-rich seabed was not formally delimited by the Convention and will need to be debated among the states. In particular, Iran and Azerbaijan will have to reach an agreement about the allocation of resources in the southern Caspian.
The meeting concluded by adopting the Rules of Procedure of the High-Level Working Group on the Caspian Sea. The document will govern future discussions and debates in the group’s format. Ambassador Bratchikov emphasized its importance, saying that it will determine “the rhythm of the working group’s activities for decades and beyond.” With all that is left to be accomplished on the Caspian Sea, the group likely does have decades of work ahead.