13 October 2011, 13:35

Geopolitical ambition behind maritime border dispute

Geopolitical ambition behind maritime border dispute
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Neighboring countries of the Persian Gulf - Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - have agreed to hold tripartite talks on their territorial dispute.  For already half a century, the countries have been failing to demarcate the gas-rich shelf area.  The lingering dispute is a heritage of colonialism, when Kuwait was a British colony and its borders were drawn in London.

Neighboring countries of the Persian Gulf - Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait - have agreed to hold tripartite talks on their territorial dispute.  For already half a century, the countries have been failing to demarcate the gas-rich shelf area. 

The lingering dispute is a heritage of colonialism, when Kuwait was a British colony and its borders were drawn in London. Having become an independent state in 1961, it never managed to agree with Iran and Saudi Arabia on new maritime borders between the three. That was partially linked to Kuwait neighbors’ critical perception of frontiers established by the Britons. The issue hung in the air because the parties concerned were not ready to solve it, according to Doctor of political studies Elena Melkumyan.

"Disputes surrounding the area’s maritime demarcation have their roots running deep into history. There are still controversies about how to draw it, making the problem remain unsolved for such a long time," says Elena Melkumyan.

There are several sides to the issue, one of them economically-motivated. The three countries are not just dividing a maritime area but a shelf rich in hydrocarbons, namely the Dorra field containing an estimated 200 billion cubic meters of natural gas.

Another aspect originates from the sides’ desire to defend their territorial and maritime rights and interests in this part of the Persian Gulf. However, the third, political, aspect may outweigh all the others, Elena Melkumyan goes on to elaborate.

"Relations between Iran and its Arab neighbors are more than complicated amid the growing number of unsettled problems. These include territorial disputes between Iran and the United Arab Emirates and Tehran’s indignation over the way the situation in protest-stricken Bahrain has been solved, Dr. Melkumyan points out."

Bahrain, yet another Persian Gulf state, is mostly populated by Shia Muslims, whereas the ruling dynasty belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam. Iran supports the former, Saudi Arabia - the latter. Bahrain’s recent mass Shia rallies were suppressed with the help of the Saudi army, causing a new wave of irritation from Tehran.

Thus, political rivalry between Tehran and Er-Riyad may become top of the border talks’ agenda. A statement to that effect came from Senior Fellow at the Center of Arabic Studies Boris Dolgov.

"Iran, which is now turning into a regional center of power, and Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as a Sunni Islam leader, are both seeking to maintain their positions in the region. And this is what the upcoming negotiations will be based on - the clash of interests between the two countries,"  Boris Dolgov stresses.

Controversies are, among other things, fuelled by Saudi Arabia’s good relations with the United States, which Tehran can hardly boast of.

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