The 5th summit of the Caspian heads of state was held in Aktau port city of Kazakhstan on 12 August 2018. The main outcome was the signing of the Caspian Convention, which defines the status of the Caspian and creates the framework for meeting the hopes and aspirations of the littoral states.
The presidents of Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran signed the convention that had been 22 years in the making. As the world’s largest body of water with no natural access to the open seas, it was a challenge to reach the consensus on Caspian but the patience, flexibility and willingness to listen to each other’s point of view led to the result that is considered satisfactory by all the parties.
Originally the Tehran Convention was the document that regulated the activities of the littoral states. it took meticulous work of more than two decades at all levels – expert groups, foreign ministers, and heads of state – to generate the text of the Convention. It is co-creation by all means.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan said during the summit, “The Convention is a kind of Constitution of the Caspian Sea. It is called upon to resolve the entire complex of issues related to the rights and obligations of the riparian countries, as well as to become a guarantor of the security, stability and prosperity of the region as a whole.”
The president of Kazakhstan as the host of the summit, and the other heads of Caspian states, were unanimous in their opinion that Caspian should be a zone of peace, good-neighborliness and friendship.
The Kazakh president also underlined the geopolitical significance of the Caspian Sea because of its favorable location on the world map. He said that the Caspian region, with its unique history and diverse culture is a rich with human and natural resources. He pointed out that the total population of the Caspian states exceeds 240 million.
The convention covers a wide range of issues such as the rights and obligations of the parties in the Caspian, including its water, sea bottom subsoil, natural resources and airspace. The text of the document also deals with security, prevention and elimination of the consequences of emergencies, and military activities of the littoral states.
The convention brings sharp focus on the necessity to transform and maintain the Caspian Sea as a zone of peace, good neighborliness and friendship. There is the obligation to make peaceful use of this body of water, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each littoral state. The convention forbids the presence of any foreign military forces in the Caspian.
The analysts have lauded the features of the convention on delineation, modes of navigation and fishing, and determination of the principles of the military-political interaction of the coastal states.
Some questions related to the delineation and consolidation of the national sectors need more consultations but the basic guidelines are available in the convention.
The limit of the territorial water is 15 nautical miles in parallel to the shore line and it will be considered as the national boundary. A 10 mile wide strip in parallel to the territorial water will be the exclusive fishing zone.
Outside of the exclusive fishing zone, there is the common water area where the vessels flying the flag of any of the littoral states will enjoy free navigation.
The convention affords freedom of transit to other seas.
President Nazarbayev noted that each state can exercise sovereign rights on the bottom and subsoil of its sector. He said that it is possible to lay the pipelines and cables along the sea bottom provided that environmental requirements are observed diligently.
He added that the observance of these principles will be helpful in the development of transport infrastructure of the littoral states, increasing the transit potential of the region.
The Kazakh president highlighted the issue of protecting the biodiversity of the sea. He said that Caspian was the home to more than 80% of the world sturgeon population but poaching has seriously depleted it. The industrial pollution, especially from the oil industry, has also dealt a blow to the environment and bio resources, he said.
He expressed hope that the convention will contribute to the preservation of the flora and fauna of the sea and solve the environmental problems.
The environmental guidelines will help regulate all the activities in the Caspian, adding safety features to the extractive industries, transport, fishing and other sectors.
Cooperation against terrorism is another important feature of the convention. Located in the vicinity of two hotspots – Afghanistan, and Syria – the Caspian is a vulnerable area in terms of energy and shipping routes and vital infrastructure. Any lapse in security can bring dire consequences for all. The littoral states are united against any terroristic intrusion into this body of water.
Including the convention, the littoral states signed seven documents, covering trade and economic partnership, transport, cooperation in case of incidents at sea, and interaction among the border agencies.
With the convention as the framework for the shared hopes and aspirations, the coastal states are expected to look at all the issues through the prism of ecological integrity of Caspian sea while pursuing their economic and other interests. /// nCa, 3 October 2018