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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin, Nazarbayev Sign Caspian Pact

President Boris Yeltsin and Kazakhstan's leader signed a key agreement Monday aimed at settling a long-running dispute over control of the oil riches in the Caspian Sea.

The five nations on the Caspian have been divided for years over the question of who owns the oil in the seabed. The three nations with oil near their coastlines -- Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- want the Caspian divided into national sectors so they can claim the oil for themselves. But Russia and Iran, two nations with little or no oil near their Caspian coasts, wanted the sea's resources to be shared by all.

However, Russia has eased its position, and Yeltsin and Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed an agreement Monday that divides the northern part of the Caspian seabed into separate Russian and Kazakh sectors.

It's seen as a victory for Kazakhstan, because it recognizes its claim to the oil near its coast and sets a precedent for future agreements. Speaking to reporters after the talks, Nazarbayev said the agreement helped settle nagging political and legal questions.

"This agreement will serve not Yeltsin or Nazarbayev, but future generations,'' Nazarbayev said, according to Russian news reports. "Oil can bring either wealth or blood.''

"It makes no sense to speak about the oil without ensuring political stability,'' he added.

The Caspian oil reserves are vast, but developing the fields has been a protracted process due to numerous legal disputes and the lack of an adequate pipeline system needed to export the oil to world markets.

Kazakhstan has also agreed to sharing of the Caspian's waters, which means both nations will have equal access to the sea's fishing grounds.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov visited Iran Monday for talks with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami expected to focus on the Caspian.

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry was giving conflicting signals Monday concerning the ex-Soviet republic's stance on the subject. On one hand it said that Turkmenistan objects to division of the Caspian into "five seas,'' but added that every country should have full sovereignty over its own sector, the Interfax news agency reported.

The middle of the sea could be a common zone, the report said.