Iran recently joined Russia in expressing concern about negotiations among the European Union, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan over a proposed trans-Caspian pipeline. In an email interview, Gawdat Bahgat, a political science professor at National Defense University, discussed diplomacy among the Caspian littoral states.
WPR: What are the main issues facing the Caspian littoral states in terms of maritime boundaries and resource rights?
Gawdat Bahgat: Though the Caspian region does not have the massive proven oil and gas reserves the Persian Gulf region holds, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have proven themselves as major energy producers and exporters. The intense disagreement over maritime boundaries in the Caspian initially slowed down the full utilization of the region's hydrocarbon resources. Historically, the Caspian Sea was shared only by Iran and the Soviet Union. Since 1990, the five littoral states have failed to agree on how to divide the sea and draw maritime boundaries. A fundamental question is whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake. If the Law of the Sea were applied to the Caspian, full maritime boundaries of the five littoral states bordering the Caspian would be established based upon an equidistant division of the sea and undersea resources into national sectors. If the Law of the Sea were not applied, the Caspian and its resources would be developed jointly -- a division referred to as the condominium approach.