MOSCOW, APRIL 5, 2004, (RIA Novosti) - The Foreign Ministers of the five Caspian states (Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan) will come together in the Russian capital Tuesday to discuss a range of issues beyond the competence of the Working Group. This is according to Viktor Kalyuzhny, Vice Foreign Minister of Russia and the Russian President's Special Representative for Caspian Affairs.

As he spoke at a preview news conference on the RIA premises Monday, Mr. Kalyuzhny reported that a convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status had been agreed by only 60 percent now whereas a meteorological convention had been agreed fully at a recent session of the Working Group in the Azeri capital of Baku. According to him, the forthcoming foreign ministerial session will consider such Caspian-related issues as demilitarization, navigation, demarcation, and free passage of vessels across Russia's inland waters.

As Mr. Kalyuzhny pointed out at the press conference, the Russian side does not want the Caspian Sea divided by national borders, but is pushing for a scheme that would make it possible for all the five nations to jointly manage the Caspian Sea, including in the use of its hydrocarbon and bio-resources, in its demilitarization, and in the construction of pipelines across its floor.

According to the official, Russia is particularly alarmed by Kazakhstan's and Azerbaijan's plans to build seabed pipelines with a view to boosting their oil export capabilities. Such projects may have serious environmental implications, all the more so since the area is prone to earthquakes, Mr. Kalyuzhny explained. Iran is also opposed to the prospect while Turkmenistan is still in two minds, he added.

That said, however, Russia rules out the possibility of using force to settle the controversy. "We [the Russian side] propose that the issue of laying a pipeline across the Caspian seabed should be resolved on the basis of a consensus between all of the Caspian states. Such projects cannot be undertaken unless there are sufficient guarantees of their safety. The Caspian is a unique reservoir, an inland sea with a distinctive ecology. Thus, for instance, if an oil leak occurs in the sea's northern part, [the oil] will spread to the south in a matter of two or three days," Mr. Kalyuzhny pointed out.

In reply to a RIA question, Russia's Special Representative for Caspian Affairs said that as far as inland navigation (specifically, in the Volga-Don canal) was concerned, Russia would be pushing for the facilitation of the permissive regime. According to him, this is one of the major issues with regard to the preparation of a convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status.

Russia also objects to the immediate demilitarization of the Caspian Sea, arguing against the withdrawal of the forces currently deployed in the area, Mr. Kalyuzhny said. "How can we possibly talk of demilitarization if the [prospective] establishment of national borders will inevitably require [military] forces to protect those borders?" he asked rhetorically.

In an interview for the Vneshneekonomicheskiye Svyazi (Foreign Economic Relations) magazine, whose transcript was posted Saturday on the Russian Foreign Ministry's Website, Mr. Kalyuzhny called for a realistic approach to the prospect of demilitarizing the Caspian Sea as it is located in the immediate vicinity of major terrorism hotbeds and there are extremist forces out there who are seeking to gain a military foothold in the area. So, instead of going ahead with their demilitarization plans, the Caspian nations should make sure they have sufficient capabilities to counter this external terrorist threat, he empasized.

In Mr. Kalyuzhny's opinion, the idea of establishing national borders across the Caspian Sea runs counter to the free navigation principle, currently under discussion.

Speaking about the U.S. interests in the Caspian area, the Russian official said that Washington was primarily interested in the local oil reserves. Faced with the threat of a deep energy crisis, the United States is pinning high hopes on the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, a project that envisages the transportation of Kazakh and Azeri petroleum into Europe via Georgia and Turkey. And it is trying hard to negotiate the project behind Russia's back, he said.

Mr. Kalyuzhny acknowledged that Kazakhstan had joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project owing to Moscow's unwillingness to make concessions on the transit prices. He also said the Baku-Novorosiisk pipeline (Novorosiisk is a Russian port on the Black Sea) could handle all the oil recovered in the Caspian area and that the Russian company Transneft could take care of oil supplies along this particular route.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev, who attended the press conference alongside Mr. Kalyuznhy, pointed out that the forthcoming ministerial debate on Caspian issues would be a tough one, but that his government tried not to overdramatize the situation.

Mr. Tokayev said Kazakhstan had been seeking a compromise on the Caspian Sea's status all along and that it wanted the seabed divided into five economic zones, for each of the Caspian nations to have the exclusive right to prospect for and develop natural resources in its own respective zone.

According to its Foreign Minister, Kazakhstan wants the sides to agree on territorial waters and fishing zones to be placed under national jurisdiction and to open the remaining area for free navigation and fishing.

"There is no room for military conflicts in the Caspian Sea," Mr. Tokayev empasized, describing the region as "highly sensitive."

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