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Caspian Sea at centre of Iran, Kazakhstan call for closer ties

TEHRAN, Oct 6 (AFP) - Ties between Iran and Kazakhstan are set to become much closer after Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev wound up a two-day visit to Tehran Wedesday with calls from both sides for greater cooperation on oil affairs and regional security.

The warming of relations, announced in a joint statement at the end of the visit, came despite Kazakhstan's close ties with the United States, still one of Iran's declared arch enemies. Talks between them focused on the economic and political importance of the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

They called on another Caspian state, Turkmenistan, to join them in cooperating over the construction of an oil pipeline through Iran to take Central Asian oil to international markets.

Iran "is the best and shortest route for Central Asian oil," the Kazakh side stressed in the statement.

The United States, which has great influence on Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, has been working to push another route bypassing Iran, as it has a imposed a complete embargo against Tehran.

Most of Kazakhstan's oil activities have so far been in cooperation with western firms, with the US giant Chevron involved in the exploitation of its huge Tenghiz on-shore field.

Iran and Kazakhstan signed a contract in 1996 providing for two million tonnes of Kazakh crude to be delivered annually to northern Iran, while Iran supplies the same amount from its own wells to the Gulf for export on behalf of Kazakhstan.

However, the accord -- designed to avoid transporting Kazakh crude across Iran -- has been intermittent.

Nazarbayev told journalists he believed his visit had "lifted the obstacles hampering the development of relations and the implementation of previous agreements between the two countries."

The statement welcomed progress in defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the exploitation of its resources, while also calling for it to remain a demilitarised zone.

Iran, which has repeatedly called on Caspian states to reach an agreement over a sharing of the sea's resources, does not accept a deal between Russia and Kazakhstan over a division of their sectors of the sea.

During his talks with Nazarbayev, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the states bordering the Caspian should regard the sea as "the centre of gravity" for their cooperation.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told Nazarbayev that Iran and Kazakhstan "lie in a sensitive region and can play an important role there."

They also expressed concern at the situation in Afghanistan and called for political dialogue. The Kazakh side praised Iran's efforts to find a peaceful settlement there while Khamenei urged Nazarbayev to work for a solution to the Afghan conflict.


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