Monday, 17 March 2014

UN awards Sea of Okhotsk enclave to Russia

On 15 March the Russian Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergey Donskoy, announced that the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf had recognised a section of the Sea of Okhotsk as part of his country’s continental shelf. The enclave, off Russia’s eastern coast, covers a 52,000 square kilometre area of fishing waters estimated to be rich in oil and gas reserves.

At the press conference, Donskoy told reporters that “This is in fact an accomplished event,” stressing that this decision to place the enclave under Russian jurisdiction was irreversible; Russia will get exclusive rights to the area. He said the Ministry had received a formal certificate from the UN Commission, which gives it exclusive rights to subsoil resources and the seabed, although the Sea technically still remains part of international waters.

Though the news of the UN Commission award is not really new – it was announced back in November – it had to be confirmed by the 33rd session of the body held earlier this month. Speaking last year, Donskoy said "Thanks to recognition of this enclave as a part of the Russian continental shelf, our country will gain more reserves of valuable minerals and other natural resources. This 52,000-square-kilometer territory is a real Ali Baba's cave in terms of resources. Access to it will open up enormous opportunities and prospects for the Russian economy."

The enclave forms part of the Okhotsk Sea, a marginal sea which covers an area of 1.6 million square kilometres in the western Pacific Ocean, located to the west of the Kamchatka Peninsula and north of the Kuril Islands. Traditionally known for its rich fishing waters, up to 40 per cent of the newly awarded enclave could hold hydrocarbons resources. Offshore blocks near the Russian port of Magadan have shown serious prospects in terms of crude deposits.

The Minister has said that Russia’s case for this award is a pre-cursor to its claims in the Arctic Circle, “which will be drafted in the near future”. Russia was the first country to submit territorial claims to the UN Commission charged with demarcating borders in the Arctic. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Iran, Iraq reach agreement over Shatt-al-Arab

Iran, Iraq reach agreement over Shatt-al-Arab

On February 25 Iran and Iraq both agreed to implement the 1975 Algiers Agreement regulating the dredging the crucial joint waterway, the Shatt-al-Arab, as well as land and river boundaries. The breakthrough settlement was reached in meetings in Tehran between Foreign Ministers Javad Zarif and Hoshyar Zebari and demonstrates the significance of the developing relationship between these two previously hostile West Asian neighbours.

Iran’s Zarif said after the meeting that “Iran and Iraq have historic and solid ties that are based on religious, political, geographical and cultural commonalities, and we are very happy that we have put behind us a short but bitter episode of our history. Today, the friendly and brotherly people of Iraq and Iran have two governments that also wish to have friendly and brotherly relations.” Iraq’s Zebari echoed these sentiments, stating that “Through calm and continuous work in the past two years among expert committees of the two sides, we have reached good agreements on our land and river borders and on the waterways between the two countries.”

During the meeting both sides reviewed the findings of joint technical committee meetings to outline a framework to fully implement the protocols of the 1975 Agreement. This includes the resolution of all outstanding border issues, including re-counting the Talouk border, dredging, removing drowned bodies, environmental considerations and mutual regulation of navigation rights. These agreements were then drafted into a Memorandum of Understanding to be signed within the coming weeks.

Dispute over the border line through the vital waterway into the Gulf was one of the key reasons which led Iraq to declare war on Iran in 1980. Since Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in 2003, however, both neighbours have been in the process of forging a strategic partnership, with bilateral trade amounting to US$12 billion last year.

According to our Editor of Iran Strategic Focus, Bijan Khajehpour,  “Iraq is not only an important trading partner for Iran, but also represents a significant piece in the country’s regional strategy, which aims to have solid relations with all immediate neighbours. Improved ties with all neighbouring countries are at the core of Tehran’s national security doctrine. Iraq occupies a special place in that respect because of the historic hostilities as well as Iraq's status as an Arab nation with a long strategic border with Iran.”