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Iran willing to accept 20 percent share of Caspian

TEHRAN, August 1 (AFP) - Iran on Tuesday reiterated its readiness to accept an equitable sharing of the resource-rich Caspian Sea during a visit by Moscow's deputy foreign minister, state radio said.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi told Viktor Kalyuzhny, who is also Moscow's envoy for Caspian affairs, that Iran would accept a 20 percent share in the wealth of the Caspian "if the other countries agree," it said.

Kalyuzhny, ending a two-day visit at the head of a political and economic delegation, said earlier that "Iran and Russia can and must continue their negotiations for a resolution to the sea's legal status".

Kharazi and his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov on Wednesday discussed the urgent need for a clarification on the status of the Caspian, estimated to contain the third-largest oil and gas reserves in the world.

Since the break up of the Soviet Union, a bitter rivalry has sprung up between the littoral states -- Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan along with Russia and Iran -- for control of the Caspian, the world's largest inland sea.

Tehran has in the past particularly singled out Azerbaijan, which has secured major energy contracts with US firms since the collapse of the USSR, of being too close too both Washington and Israel.

The division of the Caspian's waters has never been formally clarified, and Russian President Vladimir Putin is said to be hoping to win back lost influence in the region to gain control over its oil and gas.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that, although Iran had no expansionist aspirations, it would forcefully defend all of its borders, notably in the Caspian region.

But President Mohammad Khatami said in June that his country was ready to share the sea's resources "equitably."


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