عنوان مقاله [English]
The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea was signed between all the littoral states of the Caspian Sea and put an end to more than three decades of debate and ambiguity in this regard. This convention defined the status of several issues including demarcation of each country’s territorial waters, banning the presence of the foreign military forces in the sea, cooperation to manage the Caspian’s environment, and most importantly, construction of energy pipelines based on an agreement between involved states. The latter has great potential for influencing regional energy dynamics, even in the South Caucasus, and an opportunity for Iran to receive a fair share of the scene. Though Iran looks like an equal country with others in this regard, due to severe US sanctions in the years following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran's energy and geopolitical benefits have been circumvented and ignored. Today, countries like Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan have greater weight than Iran in determining the fate of the energy in the region. Russia and Iran are on the same side of the story. They both do not want to be cut off from energy transmission lines and allow small countries to make decisions.
In theory, the convention is just a paper for Iran which only creates obligations, and unlike other states, doesn’t bring golden achievements for Tehran. For this reason, Iran is the only country that has not yet ratified this convention in its national parliament. In practice, but the convention moved forward Iran one step more and gave it more capacity to request its share from the Caspian energy market. The Islamic Republic now could say all obligations and achievements must be equal and be divided properly.
In Geopolitics school, the liberals believe that states must take Geopolitics as a platform for competition and cooperation and pursue their absolute interests. Despite realists who believe that the interests of one state are relative and that the interests of one state mean the deprivation of another state, the liberal program can make progress in Iran's interactions with the dynamics of the Caspian energy.
On the one hand, sanctions still exist, and Iran is like radioactive particles that no one wants to touch. On the other hand, it has gathered untapped energy potentials that they want to release. According to the liberal geopolitical version, this must be formulated in a precise strategy and the achievable steps must be determined. In other words, Iran cannot use an aggressive and subversive approach to other coastal countries, simply because it enjoys vast energy resources, a geopolitical position, or the signing of a convention in its hands.
This article articulates that the Iranian foreign policy should be optimistic to other players of the Caspian Sea and tries to persuade them to consider Iran as a great player with legitimate interests in Caspian energy extraction, pipelines, and other issues. Tehran must remind that the basic principle of the 2018 Convention was cooperation which applies to all objective areas of the Sea, not just signing a deal. The first practical step under the aforementioned limits of Iran could be the allocation of a reasonable part of the Caspian pipeline's capacity to transfer Iranian oil and gas. This article has the necessary legal basis in the Convention, and in addition, Russia has stated that all decisions related to energy in the Caspian Sea must take into account the consent of all parties. So, if Iran couldn’t sell and transit some of its energy sources, it could easily spoil the Convention and other collective decisions.
Almost all Caspian countries are major energy producers with huge untouched reserves which make them unavoidable competitors for exporting energy to East Asia and Europe. Supplying Europe with its natural gas is a long-standing goal for Iran since the 1990s, but sanctions prevented the development of its energy infrastructure such as the study of new fields, building pipelines, and installing modern extraction equipment. While during the last decades, Tehran witnessed Europe’s efforts to diversify its energy imports via building new pipelines in the Caspian region and South Caucasus, today Russia tries hard to prevent these programs and even circumvent hotspots like Ukraine by launching the Nord Stream 2 project.
Furthermore, the instability of the South Caucasus continues, as Russia and Turkey are pursuing divergent security and economic interests. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, like a frozen conflict, has an unknown fate which at any moment could lead to an unexpected disruption of energy flows.
In addition, to deepen synergy with the Caspian littoral states, Iran now could engage with Europe and the US to get waivers in energy export sanctions. At this point, diplomacy matters most. Iran needs to assure Russia that a limited energy export to Europe by Iran would not weaken its predominance in regional energy dynamics. The use of the Russian-dominated pipeline network and the acquisition of a limited market share from Europe should be considered as initial steps that are not intended to generate revenue. It uses the provisions of the Caspian Legal Convention to enter the world of northern energy.