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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Caspian Deal With Azerbaijan Postponed

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Russia and Azerbaijan have postponed signing a bilateral accord on dividing the oil-rich Caspian Sea because necessary documents are not ready, Azeri President Heidar Aliyev said Saturday.

The deal, which had been expected to be signed by the Azeri and Russian presidents on Sunday in St. Petersburg, is similar to a deal clinched by Russia with Kazakhstan in the northern half of the sea less than a month ago.

Talks in April on a broader deal among the five Caspian littoral states -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan -- failed to reach a solution.

"There are no unresolved issues in the Caspian agreement with Russia, it's just that our representatives did not complete the protocols on schedule, and we did not succeed in agreeing on two or three little nuances," Aliyev told reporters in the Azeri capital Baku before flying to St. Petersburg.

"The agreement will be signed at another suitable time," said veteran leader Aliyev, who was to hold two days of talks with President Vladimir Putin in Russia's old imperial capital.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a news conference in St. Petersburg that there were no conflicts between the two sides on the main issues, and that an agreement would be signed "in the very near future," he said.

Russian ambassador to Baku Nikolai Ryabov said minor problems between the working groups on several technical and legal issues meant both sides had agreed to delay the signing.

Experts say the new bilateral deal between Russia and Azerbaijan will further isolate Iran and Turkmenistan, who could be forced to soften their positions on the Caspian Sea. The Caspian is believed to hold as much oil as the North Sea.

The landlocked sea has needed a new legal status since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Until then, it had been governed by a 1970 agreement between Iran and the Soviet Union, then the only littoral states.

Iran wants the sea split equally among the five states, while Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan support the so-called middle lines division principle, which would leave Iran with the smallest portion of the Caspian.

In April, the five Caspian state leaders failed to resolve complex disputes over the lucrative oil and gas fields, saying their differences were too wide to bridge.

Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan were the first to sign a bilateral deal at the end of 2001.

Putin said after April's failed Turkmenistan summit that Russia would consider cutting bilateral accords. Less than a month later, he signed a deal with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev after the two sides agreed to jointly develop three major oil and gas deposits.