IRAN TO HOST TALKS ON CASPIAN LEGAL STATUS

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TEHRAN, May 16 (RIA Novosti correspondent Nikolai Terekhov) - An ad hoc group tasked with drafting a convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status will open its 17th meeting in Tehran on Monday.

The delegations of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan, the Caspian littoral countries, will set out their countries' positions on the most crucial legal aspects of the use of the Caspian and the countries' cooperation.

The Russian delegation will be led by Igor Yusufov, the president's envoy on international energy cooperation.

Experts said that would be a declaratory meeting as agreement had not been reached on how to divide the southern Caspian's oil-rich floor between Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.

The Caspian talks have been seriously aggravated by disagreement on the oil fields on the disputable sections on the floor border between Iran and Azerbaijan, the three countries' reluctance to make concessions at talks, and Iran's claim to a 20-percent share in the sea.

Iranian experts said the United States and some other countries had taken advantage of the uncertainty: they intend to step up military cooperation with Azerbaijan and deploy military bases on Azerbaijan's Caspian coast and thereby build up their military presence in the region.

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