RFERL:

It has taken more than 20 years. But on August 12, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan will meet in the Kazakh port city of Aqtau, reportedly to sign a new convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

An 18-page draft of the agreement, posted briefly on Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's website in June and obtained by RFE/RL, lists 24 articles, including territorial waters, maritime borders, rules for navigation, fishing rights, environmental matters, and, importantly, use of the sea's resources.

The Caspian seabed hides some 50 billion barrels of oil and nearly 9 trillion cubic meters of gas in proven or probable reserves. At current market prices, that is several trillion dollars' worth of energy resources; with further exploration, it could turn out to be much more.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that it has taken this long to reach a deal on the Caspian's legal status.

Debate has always hinged on whether the Caspian is a "sea" or a "lake." It is an inland body of water, with no exits to any seas or oceans. The draft suggests the five littoral states will agree in Aqtau that the Caspian is a sea.

Classifying it as a lake would mean the resources of the Caspian should be divided equally among those five countries. The sea designation means the five countries should draw lines extending from their shores to the midway point with littoral neighbors.

Iran is arguably the loser under such an arrangement, as it would get only about 13 percent of the Caspian -- and the deepest and saltiest part at that. That has seemingly led Tehran to resist any deal recognizing the Caspian as a sea.

Go to link