Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Caspian cooperation discussed with Iran

Iran's deputy foreign minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzade visited Ashgabat this month. Although nothing concrete came out of the visit, he was apparently there to ensure that the two states are on the same page when it comes to the situation in the Caspian.

In press reports released after the visit, President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov said that Turkmenistan “stands for establishing a constructive dialogue in the Caspian basin” and called for “a coordinated, mutually acceptable decision on the status of this unique basin”. The usual call for the Caspian to be developed “in an atmosphere of peace and stability” was also made.

Relations between Tehran and Ashgabat have usually been good, but disagreements over the delimitation of the Caspian have occasionally strained ties. Iran has also sometimes been wary about Turkmenistan's role as a transport hub for US military supplies to Afghanistan and its friendly relations with Israel. In November an

Iranian MP accused Turkmenistan (as well as Azerbaijan) of being a base for Mossad.

The visit may also be linked with Iran's new Caspian oil and gas field, Sardar Jangal (see page 12). The precise location of the field has not been revealed but it may lie close to the maritime boundary with Turkmenistan, so Akhundzade's visit may have been intended to provide reassurances that it would not be drilling in disputed waters.

The trip may also have been aimed at securing more work for Iran's North Drilling Company in light of tightening international sanctions. Earlier this month Iranian oil officials announced that Iran had earned $300 million over the past five years by drilling 30 wells in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian, and plans to build more

wells in the years ahead. With new US and EU sanctions choking the Iranian economy, finding as many sources of foreign income as possible is a priority – this could raise complications for Turkmenistan as it seeks to boost the involvement of Western firms in its energy industry.

For more news and expert analysis about the Caspian region, please see Caspian Focus.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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