Iranian President Mohammad Khatami will sign an accord on the Caspian Sea with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during his landmark visit to Moscow this week, a senior Russian official said Sunday.
However a final decision on sharing out the Caspian's resources "can only be taken with the agreement of all five of the countries which border the inland sea," Viktor Kalyuzhny, Putin's representative on Caspian issues, said as quoted by the RIA-Novosty news agency.
Khatami is due to begin his three-day visit early Monday. Earlier announcements had suggested he would arrive in the Russian capital late Sunday.
The vast resources under the Caspian Sea will figure high on the agenda of the visit, which "confirms the strategic rapprochement between Iran and Russia in all fields," according to the Iranian ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Safari, as quoted on Iranian television.
Tehran is proposing an equal share-out among the five countries that border the Caspian (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan), a view that Moscow opposes.
A five-nation summit due to have taken place in Turkmenistan on March 8 and 9 was postponed to next month at Iran's request, but the meeting "may well not take place then either," Kalyuzhny said, without explaining further.
Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said Friday that Tehran was not willing to wait for an agreement over the sea's legal status before beginning its own exploration work.
Zanganeh, speaking after Tehran inked a $226-million contract with a Swedish company for an exploration rig in the Caspian, said "we don't see why we shouldn't begin" exploring the sea's potentially vast resources.
Khatami's programme includes talks with Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and the speaker of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznyov. He is due also to hold talks with religious leaders Alexy II, the Russian Orthodox patriarch, and Ravil Gaynutdin, the Russian mufti (Islamic leader).
On Wednesday he is to travel to Russia's former imperial capital and second city Saint Petersburg, concluding his visit with a trip to Kazan, capital of the mainly Muslim republic of Tatarstan.—AFP.
©--Agence France Presse 2001.
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)