Caspian Sea and littoral states
The troubling headlines in major media recently, I begin to wonder, could they be something of a smokescreen? Like a magician’s sleight of hand designed to guide our eyes away from something else going on? It’s just a thought.
Here’s what brought on that thought – Qom. Not the holy mountain in Iran and not the nuclear facility supposedly beneath it. No, the big lake north of it. The Caspian Sea.
Recently I came across a news reference to the Caspian Sea and looked it up on a world map. As I stared at the size and location of it, I felt my innate curiosity stirring. I decided to look for other online news references to it.
I found next to nothing on western news sites. However, three separate articles about the Caspian Sea appeared in the Fars News online yesterday. I found several more published there in recent months.
The more I read, the more I wanted to read about the Caspian Sea and its littoral states (the five countries that share its coastline – Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan). Before the breakup of the USSR, only two of those states were included, Russia and Iran, and they had an agreement that spelled out who could do what and where on the Caspian Sea.
Since then, however, with three more countries added, that initial agreement has been dismantled or ignored, and the five countries involved have failed to agree on a new one. (That is not to say they haven’t been busy doing their own thing in the sea. They have.)
Why should anyone on this side of the world care? Energy. Gas and Oil. Money. Power. Vast gas and oil reserves lie under the Caspian Sea, and many countries want it. Top of the list are Iran, Russia, the United States – and China.
Below are some of the Fars News articles I’ve read today and links to them. You won’t find China mentioned in those, but I found quite a few references to China’s interest in the Caspian Sea energy development in other sources. I’ve included links to a couple of those as well.
Central Asian Pipelines
It seems that China has been buying up major percentage interests in some oil companies, whether owned or operated in those littoral states.
From a September 29th article titled “New Player in Caspian Sea Power Corridor:”
“It was reported on the 16th of April 2009 that amid the world economic crisis Kazakhstan borrowed from China 10 billion dollars during N. Nazarbayev’s visit to Beijing. The Chinese CNPC Company bought a 50% stake of “Mangistaumunaigaz” for 1.4 billion dollars… Chinese companies already own a third of Kazakhstan-produced oil…”
“China’s policy of advancing towards the Caspian Sea region resources is seen also in Turkmenistan. (A pipeline is being constructed from Turkmenistan to China and should be operational in 2010.)”
You can read more about this in “SCO Yekaterinburg summit and China’s energy offensive towards the Caspian Sea (II),” http://en.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=2240
The United States government has a decided political and military interest in a different pipeline, one that will lead from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Here’s a quote from the September 29 blog article mentioned above: “There is some base to claim that U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan is directly related to the large reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan… demand to increase troop levels in Afghanistan jumped a bit along with the recently publicized discovery of the very large natural gas reserves in the Yoloten-Osman gas fields in southern Turkmenistan.”
Here are the several articles I read on Fars News online today:
Fars News 2009-07-24:
Iran Discovers 46 Oil Fields in Caspian Sea
Caspian Sea semi-submersible oil rig, Iran-Alborz
TEHRAN (FNA)- Forty-six oil exploration fields have been identified in the Caspian Sea, Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said. According to Nozari, eight of the fields are presently ready for exploitation.
The comment came as Iran launched its domestically-built 14,000-ton offshore platform in its territorial Caspian waters to increase its oil output. Iran says the semi-submersible drilling rig called Iran-Alborz is the largest in the Middle East, press tv reported.
The platform can operate at water depths up to 1,030 meters and can drill down to 6,000 meters under the seabed. Nozari went on to add that Iran plans to build a new oil pipeline linking the northern port of Neka in the Caspian Sea to the southern port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman.
Earlier Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Noureddin Shahnazizadeh said that initial studies for the $2 billion pipeline had been concluded and that the ministry would move to sign a contract soon.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has given priority to exploring its northern territorial waters in the Caspian Sea. The largest enclosed body of water on the planet is estimated to have oil reserves of 17 billion to 44 billion barrels.
The maritime and seabed boundaries of the Caspian have yet to be demarcate among Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, and Turkmenistan — the five countries bordering the Sea.
Fars News Agency 11 Oct 2009
Iran against Presence of 3rd Parties in Caspian Sea
TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced that Iran is against the presence of “a third state or organization” in the Caspian Sea.
[Bette: I’m not sure who they mean by third state or organization; China?]
Based on deals reached between Iran and the former Soviet Union, no other country can launch shipping or conduct fishing in the sea except its littoral states, Mottaki told a one-day summit on the Caspian Sea’s legal regime in Tehran.
Mottaki also called on the Caspian states to avoid an arms race in the region, saying Tehran believes the largest lake in the world should remain ‘the sea of peace, friendship, and stability’, press tv reported.
He emphasized that establishing a balance, between the number of military forces and equipment and the ‘joint potential threats’ in the region, is essential.
The Iranian foreign minister underlined that there is an urgent need for an appropriate security mechanism to monitor joint measures in the sea.
The Iranian top diplomat added that the Islamic Republic believes any decision on the legal regime of the sea should be taken by a consensus among the five littoral states.
He also noted that any decision outside such a structure for the Caspian Sea ‘lacks legitimacy and will not be put into practice’.
The legal status of the Caspian Sea has been blurred since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Prior to that, Iran and the Soviet Union equally shared the resources of the lake.
After the breakup of the USSR, three newly independent states-Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan-bordering the Caspian Sea appeared on the scene, with their own demands.
Despite extensive negotiations, no agreement has been signed for the final legal status of what is in fact not a ‘sea’, but the largest lake in the world.
Mottaki went on to say that the Islamic Republic will not allow any country to carry out excavation activities for energy resources in Iran’s 20 percent share of the sea, until its legal status is finalized. He reiterated that Iran desires a “fair” share of the sea’s resources.
The maritime and seabed boundaries of the Caspian Sea have yet to be demarcated among Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, the five countries bordering the Sea.
MP: Caspian States Should Focus on Compilation of Legal Regime
TEHRAN (FNA)- Spokesman of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Kazem Jalali on Thursday encouraged the Caspian states to focus on compilation of a legal regime for the Caspian Sea. Addressing a conference on the Caspian Sea, Jalali added that the sea faces greater challenges to the same degree it is important.
“One of the most important tests of the Islamic Republic which will be judged by the coming generations is the Caspian Sea legal regime,” the Islamic republic news agency quoted Jalali as saying.
Littoral states have reached the conclusion to share out the sea which was also accepted by Iran, he said. But there are still disagreements over the division of the sea-bed, he noted.
Jalali further contended that Iran has laid essential structures for the issue in proportionate with its significance and the challenges faced by it. Of course, this cannot negate the efforts of the Foreign Ministry and presidential representative in the Caspian Sea affairs, the lawmaker said.
The Caspian Sea the largest enclosed body of water on Earth by area, variously classed as the world’s largest lake or a full-fledged sea. It has a surface area of 371,000 square kilometers and a volume of 78,200 cubic kilometers.
It was perceived as an ocean by its ancient coastal inhabitants, presumably because of its saltiness and seeming boundlessness. It has a salinity of approximately 1.2%, about a third the salinity of most seawater.
Fars News 2009-09-12:
Berdimuhamedow: Turkmenistan Ready to Join Nabucco Pipeline
TEHRAN (FNA)- Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow announced on Saturday that his country has the necessary resources to join the Nabucco gas pipeline.
(See more about Nabucco and map below.)
The Nabucco gas pipeline project worth €7.9 billion envisages gas supply from the Caspian region to the EU countries. Construction of the gas pipeline was scheduled for 2011. The first supplies will be launched in 2014. Maximal capacity of the pipeline will hit 31 billion cubic meters per year.
The proposed 3,300-kilometer Nabucco pipeline aims to carry natural gas from Central Asia via Turkey and the Balkan states to Austria, bypassing Russia and Ukraine.
The Turkmen president pointed to the newly discovered gas fields, Yolatan and Othman, in the southern parts of his country, and said that huge gas reserves of the two fields have made it possible for Turkmenistan to join major international gas pipeline projects.
Reminding that the Nabucco pipeline is at the center of the international community’s attention, he added that development of gas and oil fields, construction of new facilities for refining oil and gas, construction of gas terminals, employment of modern technologies in his country’s oil and gas sectors are among Ashgabat’s priorities.
The gas discovery has made Turkmenistan much hopeful about picking up a bigger share of the international market. Following the discovery of the two huge gas fields, Ashgabat made a deal with Tehran to build a new pipeline to transfer Turkmen gas to its southern neighbor.
“Given the closeness of Turkmenistan’s gas resources to Iran’s border, a new gas pipeline is to be constructed in near future for transferring Turkmen gas to Iran in addition to the existing Korpeje-Kurt Kui pipeline,” Iranian Ambassador to the country Mohammad Reza Forqani told FNA in July.
Turkmenistan has agreed to boost the volume of its natural gas exports to Iran to 14 billion cubic meters (bcm) from the current 8 bcm following the start of operation of the new gas pipeline between the two countries.
The new pipeline from the eastern Turkmen town of Dauletabad to Iran will have a capacity of 12.5 bcm of gas per year. Turkmenistan has also undertaken to increase the quantity of its gas exports to Iran to 20 bcm in the future.
Meantime, analysts and international observers underlined that materialization of the Nabucco gas pipeline project depends on supplying the needed gas for the pipeline.
Fars News 2009-08-29:
Iran, Russia Ready to Boost Ties
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Islamic Republic of Iran and Russia here on Friday called for further expansion of all-out ties between the two states. During their meeting, Iran’s Ambassador to Moscow Mahmoud-Reza Sajjadi and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin underlined the need for promotion of bilateral political, economic, trade and banking cooperation.
The two countries decided to hold a session of Iran-Russia Joint Economic Commission in Tehran soon. The two officials voiced readiness to carry out joint projects in the areas of energy and transportation, the Islamic republic news agency reported.
Meanwhile, the Iranian envoy called for transportation of Russian goods to Iran by Iran’s shipping at the Caspian Sea. They also underscored the need for exchange of political and economic delegations between the two states.
Fars News 2009-08-14:
Russia to Hold North-South Transport Corridor Rally
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Republic of Kalmykia of the Russian Federation is slated to hold the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) rally. A multi-modal transportation established by Iran, Russia and India in St. Petersburg in September 2000, the INSTC connects the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea via Iran, which is then connected to St. Petersburg and North Europe via the Russian Federation, press tv reported.
The event, which is said to be a rival for the famous Paris-Dakar rally, will start next year with the aim of introducing and promoting the North-South Transport Corridor.
The INSTC was expanded to include eleven new members, namely Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria.
Introducing the Iran path as a safe transportation route from Asia to Europe and introducing the economical and commercial potentials of the countries along INSTC are among the other aims of the project.
Fars News 2009-06-05:
US Pressing Nabucco Scheme without Iran
Nabucco Gas Pipeline
TEHRAN (FNA)- The US announced that it does not support Iran’s involvement in the Nabucco gas pipeline until Tehran ‘changes its policies’. The US special envoy for Eurasian energy issues Richard Morningstar said that Iran can only join the gas pipeline undertaking after the normalization of ties between Tehran and Washington, press tv reported.
He told a group of reporters in Ankara on Thursday that inviting Iran to the project without a resolution to the standoff over its nuclear program could “have a negative effect.” “We don’t want to change our policy unless Iran changes its policy,” AP quoted Morningstar as saying.
The pipeline is to link the Caspian Sea region, the Middle East and Egypt to the European Union via Turkey. The Nabucco consortium, which aims at decreasing Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas, has been unable to find sufficient gas supplies necessary for the feasibility of the project.
Turkey, which is a member of the consortium, has repeatedly voiced its support for Iran’s involvement in the project.
So. That’s some of what I’ve read about this subject today, all from non-western news media sources. Maybe natural disasters, economic worries and Iranian uranium-enrichment facilities aren’t deliberate smokescreens. But the absence of western news about these multi-faceted, multi-nation Caspian Sea developments makes me curious.