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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Caspian Summit Ends With No Deal

ReutersIranian President Mohammad Khatami gesturing next to President Vladimir Putin at the second day of negotiations in Ashgabat on Wednesday.
ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- The vast oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Sea will remain deep underwater as the presidents of the five littoral states failed to agree Wednesday on how to divide its wealth.

Even a vague general declaration that had been expected to be signed on the exploitation of the Caspian, believed to hold the world's third-largest oil and gas reserves, eluded the presidents of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

Instead, infighting dominated the two-day summit in the Turkmen capital, and the leaders went home only with an agreement to continue talks at some unspecified later date.

"We agreed to continue these discussions on all aspects of cooperation," President Vladimir Putin said at a news conference after the summit. Putin called the talks "open and constructive," but nothing more.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who hosted the long-delayed summit, said the proposed declaration was "empty" and wasn't even worth signing.

Privately, members of the Russian delegation dismissed the Turkmen leader as an insignificant player and spent much of their time courting Iran and Kazakhstan.

Niyazov also warned of the dangers of military conflict over territorial disputes and said twice during the summit that "the Caspian smells of blood."

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami insisted that the Caspian, where five navies have gunboats on patrol, should be demilitarized.

Disputes occur frequently as each country jockeys to assert its claims. Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are quarreling over who has sovereignty over several exploratory wells in the middle of the Caspian, and Iran has denounced an agreement between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on sharing Caspian resources.

However, at the end of Wednesday's four-hour meeting, Niyazov said that all five countries had "agreed to prevent conflicts and behind-the-scenes games."

The legal status of the Caspian has been in limbo since the Soviet collapse more than 10 years ago, hindering exploration and pumping of the undersea wealth. The Soviet Union and Iran had equally shared control of the Caspian.

During the talks, Iran said it wanted to maintain its 50 percent share, while Putin did not spell out Russia's position publicly. The other three states want a share based on national sectors.

Agreement was not achieved on any major issues, including division of the seabed, fishing and ecological degradation.

"The problem was larger than we expected," Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said.

Caspian oil has taken on strategic importance as Western nations seek alternatives to Persian Gulf oil. Meanwhile, both Russia and Iran want to counter a buildup of U.S. military influence in Central Asia that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

Putin said the Caspian leaders had agreed to meet again to continue talks and proposed holding further talks at a new Caspian summit in the spring of 2003 in Tehran, Iran.