efe-epaAktau, Kazakhstan

The leaders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan on Sunday signed the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, which took 22 years of arduous negotiations to reach and opens new possibilities for cooperation among the five coastal nations.

The document was signed at the 5th Caspian Sea Summit by the presidents of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev; Iran, Hassan Rouhani; Russia, Vladimir Putin; Turkmenistan, Gurbanguli Berdimuhamedow; and Kazakhstan's head of state and summit host, Nursultan Nazarbayev.

The text endorses the principles that are to govern the activities of the signatory nations on the Caspian Sea, as well as issues related to the delimitation of territorial waters and seabed, navigation, environmental conservation and security.

The Caspian, the largest lake in the world with an area of 370,886 sq. kilometers (143,200 sq. miles), is to be divided into territorial waters (not exceeding 15 nautical miles in width), exclusive areas for fishing (10 nautical miles in width) and waters for common use, as established in the convention's text.

The sovereignty of each of the five countries extends, according to the document, "to its territorial waters," which include the seabed and the natural resources below it.

Countries with a common border on the Caspian coast may delimit their territorial waters through bilateral treaties, taking into account international law.

The delimitation of the seabed in sectors and the distribution of natural resources can also be agreed between neighboring countries or those that face each other on the opposite shores of the sea, such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Iran, however, considers that territorial boundaries around the the sea are an issue that is still open and should be negotiated in the future.

"In our opinion, the proposed Caspian Convention does not definitively establish the delimitation lines of the sea, so negotiations between the countries must continue. An additional agreement on this matter will be necessary," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his speech at the summit.

The Iranian president warned that, in any case, the convention must still be ratified by the parliaments of all the signatory countries.

Both Rouhani and Putin stressed the exclusive sovereignty of coastal countries over the Caspian and stressed, in particular, that other countries are not permitted to have a military presence on its waters.

"Any construction of military bases and the presence of foreign military ships on the Caspian is prohibited. A very important step has been taken," the Iranian president said.

For his part, Putin said that the convention "guarantees the peaceful status of the Caspian, the absence on the Caspian of armed forces of states from outside the region."

The leaders of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan put more emphasis on the possibilities of economic cooperation brought about by the convention, which was accompanied by the signing of six intergovernmental agreements by the coastal nations.

"The Caspian is an effective bridge of cooperation not only between the coastal countries, but also between Asia and Europe," Nazarbayev said, noting the importance of its waters as an intercontinental transport corridor.

The convention also expressly prohibits "any type of activity that affects the biodiversity of the Caspian Sea."

To reaffirm their commitment to the conservation of Caspian wildlife, the leaders released sturgeon fry, the sea's most precious fish, at the end of the summit.

Aktau's Akimat (Town Hall) announced that the signing of the convention is to be celebrated on Sunday evening on the waterfront with a gala concert that will end with a fireworks show.

By Bernardo Suárez Indart.