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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Caspian War of Words Heats Up

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan — Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, at odds over who owns what in the oil-rich Caspian Sea, traded new barbs Monday, with Turkmenistan threatening to seek international arbitration in the dispute.

Russia said such disputes showed the need to decide the status of the sea.

A Turkmen official, who took part in the latest round of talks that ended in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat on Sunday, said the Azeri side was responsible for a lack of progress.

"The absence of compromise solutions at these talks stems from the actions and negotiating tactics of the Azeri delegation that is totally responsible for such a result," he said.

Azeri Deputy Prime Minister Abbas Abbasov, who headed Baku's team at the latest talks, said in Baku that "the fruitless negotiations" were due to "Turkmenistan's lack of objectivity." He said all his attempts to meet Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov had yielded no result.

At issue in the diplomatic dispute between the two former Soviet states are potentially huge energy deposits on the inland sea, which has not been formally divided between the states around it — Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are vying for two fields, one called Osman in Turkmen and Chirag in Azeri, another called Khazar in Turkmen and Azeri by Azerbaijan, which Ashgabat claims Baku has been developing illegally.

Exploration of the Altyn Asyr oil and gas structure, called Sharg by Azerbaijan, is another bone of contention.

"Ashgabat is categorically against any kind of activity on the oil and gas structures located in disputed parts of the Caspian shelf before the sea has acquired clearly defined borders of national sectors," said Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister Yelly Gurbanmuradov.

The statement also quoted Turkmen Oil Industry and Mineral Resources Minister Kurbannazar Nazarov as saying "Turkmenistan would use all legitimate means to defend its interests, including international arbitration."

The territorial dispute in the Caspian became more heated last week when an Iranian gunboat ordered two exploration ships licensed by Azerbaijan out of what it considered Iranian waters.

Abbasov said Ashgabat's tough-worded diplomatic note to Baku last Friday and Tehran's act of gunboat diplomacy represented a well-orchestrated action against Azerbaijan.

BP said Monday it was too early to say when it might resume exploration in a disputed Caspian sector, following last week's incident with an Iranian gunboat.

The United States has targeted the Caspian as one area in which it would like to build influence. National Security Adviser Condeleezza Rice said during a visit to Moscow last week that the region needed stability and criticized Iran for the gunboat incident.

Russia has also expressed concern, calling for talks to smooth things over and finally to decide the status of the sea.