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Russia, Kazak Divide Part of Caspian
Mon May 13, 3:49 PM ET

By MARA D. BELLABY, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) - Russia and Kazakhstan signed an agreement Monday on dividing the northern part of the resource-rich Caspian Sea, an accord both nations said was a big step toward defining ownership rights to the sea's plentiful oil and gas fields.

The new agreement, which expands on a 1998 deal, comes weeks after a long-awaited summit failed to produce any breakthroughs on dividing the sea among the five countries that surround it.

The legal status of the Caspian has been in limbo since the Soviet collapse of 1991, hindering exploration and pumping of oil and gas reserves that are believed to be the third largest in the world. Previously, the Soviet Union and Iran had equal rights to the Caspian.

After last month's summit in the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan failed to yield any results, Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) called on the five Caspian Sea states to conclude bilateral agreements.

The Russia-Kazakhstan agreement signed Monday during a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Community — a grouping of Russia and four other ex-Soviet republics — sets out specific geographical coordinates for dividing the northern part of the sea, Interfax news agency reported. It also stipulates that Moscow and Astana will divide the Kurmangazy, Tsentralnaya and Khvalynskoye fields on an equal basis.

The agreement "is a real breakthrough in bilateral cooperation in the development of the Caspian Sea," Putin said, according to the Interfax news agency.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev said Monday that he hoped the agreement would serve as an example for other Caspian Sea nations, Interfax reported.

Nazarbayev also said he expected an agreement to be reached next month on the transportation of Kazakh oil through Russia. He said the agreement would likely span five to 10 years and involve the movement of 16 million tons of oil a year, Interfax reported.

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