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    MOSCOW, April 6, 2004. (RIA Novosti) - Russia believes the development of relations with the Caspian states is a priority, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said opening a meeting of the Caspian states' foreign ministers that started its work today in Moscow.

    "Russia values good-neighborly relations with each of the Caspian states, which we regard as a priority and which we intend to actively develop," Mr. Lavrov said.

    In his words, the holding of such a meeting in Moscow reflects the understanding by all Caspian states of "our geopolitical community and the necessity of joint actions on a wide range of regional problems whose solution is only possible on the basis of the balance of interests of each of the Caspian states." In this connection, the Russian foreign minister stressed that the most urgent problem today is the necessity to develop the Caspian's new legal status.

    "Significant progress has been achieved as of today in the development of a convention on the legal status of the Caspian, but we would like even broader progress," Mr. Lavrov said.

    He said the framework convention on the preservation of maritime space signed in Tehran was a success. The minister also said three sides agreed to divide the sea bottom into national sectors.

    Cooperation in other spheres is developing as well.

    "The Caspian is turning into one of the leading world centers to produce and export hydrocarbons. Littoral states are developing cooperation in this sphere both between themselves and with other regional partners. We believe delimitation of adjacent sectors of the Caspian Sea bottom is really significant to continue this work successfully," Sergei Lavrov said.

    Mr. Lavrov said the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea discussed today reads that "the use of the Caspian Sea in peaceful purposes, its turning into an area of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation is the aim that unites us. But we have to fight for this aim to be reached," he added.

    The Russian foreign minister said the Caspian Sea is situated in a far from calm region, near hotbeds of international terrorism. "It's important for us to develop interaction and collective fight against international terrorism and other new threats and challenges that are manifested on the Caspian," said the minister.

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