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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Calls for Caspian Oil Cooperation

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi pleaded over the weekend for cooperation in developing and exporting oil and gas from the Caspian Sea and criticized the United States for promoting unilateral exploitation of the reserves.

"We do not want to see the Caspian as a scene of rivalry. Regional cooperation, rather, guarantees lasting development and helps bring about stability and security," Kharazi said in an address to an international conference on Caspian oil and gas resources, which opened in Tehran on Saturday.

"Development cannot be achieved on a temporary basis, on thinking about the interests of one or two governments and to the detriment of others," he warned. "We should work for opportunities for all nations without discrimination and double standard."

International consortia led by the United States have in the past years signed contracts with the governments of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan to develop their vast offshore oil and gas resources.

The three former Soviet republics have shared the Caspian with Iran and Russia since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Washington has been pressuring the three countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus to leave Iran out of the deals as part of its drive to punish the Islamic republic for its anti-U.S. policies.

But Kharazi warned of "potential tension in the Caspian region, which, if fanned, could affect the entire region as well as foreign companies investing in it."

He insisted on devising a single legal regime to govern exploitation of the sea's resources, saying "it is of immediate political and security importance."

"We do not accept two legal regimes. Only one regime should rule on the whole sea - whether it be its water, seabed or minerals," the minister warned, calling for an equal division of the Caspian.

The United States has also tried to exclude Iran as a route for the export of hydrocarbons from the region, although many experts agree that the Persian country offers economically viable access to the world market.

Kharazi warned against "politicizing" the choice of export routes, calling for "decisions to be taken based on logic and economic justifications."

Three U.S. oil companies - Conoco, Mobil and Unocal - are among some 40 foreign companies with representatives at the two-day seminar, cosponsored by British-Dutch giant Royal Dutch/Shell.

It is part of Iranian attempts to thwart U.S. efforts to exclude it from regional energy deals.

Kharazi said his country "is the most important and only logical transit point for the exports of Caspian oil and gas because of its massive networks of roads, railroads and pipelines and its numerous ports."

He said Iran already possesses pipelines within 200 kilometers of the Caspian, allowing it to offer exportable energy "cheap and easy access" to the Persian Gulf.

He said Iran itself could be a major consumer, "ready to buy up to 1.5 million barrels of crude and 200 million cubic meters of gas" extracted from the Caspian.