MOSCOW- The Caspian's littoral states of Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan signed a landmark convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea on Sunday, after over two decades of negotiations.
The summit of Caspian Sea states, which brings together the leaders of five countries bordering the inland sea, reached a consensus on how to divide up the potentially huge oil and gas resources of the world's biggest enclosed body of water, paving way for more energy exploration and pipeline projects.
Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan have quarrelled for more than two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union over how to divide the strategically-important landlocked sea.
"This is an exceptional summit with milestone significance for the fate of the Caspian Sea," Russian president Vladimir Putin told his fellow leaders. "This gives an opportunity for us to be on a different level of partnership to develop our co-operation in various new directions."
The landmark convention on the legal status of the sea was signed at the Fifth Caspian Summit in the Kazakh city of Aktau.
The Summit has extraordinary significance, the convention guarantees that countries outside the region are absent from the Caspian Sea, Russian President said.
Speaking after the signing on Sunday, all five leaders praised it as a historic event.
Putin said the document "fixes the exclusive right and responsibility of our states for the fate of the Caspian Sea and establishes clear rules for its collective use."
"Our region could be a good example of stability, friendship and a good neighbourhood," said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. "The Caspian Sea only belongs to the Caspian states. The deployment and placement of military assets is not allowed for other countries."
The Caspian Sea Legal Regime Convention also puts emphasis on sovereignty and sovereign rights of littoral states while recognizing their right to decide on the sea.
Significantly the five states have agreed to ban military presence of all foreign countries in the sea and transit of military consignments belonging to foreign countries.
The convention emphasizes that the Caspian Sea belongs to all littoral states, prohibiting establishment and handing over of any kind of military bases to foreign countries.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier commended the solidarity among the Caspian Sea littoral states, saying that the five countries would further continue cooperation on "unresolved issues."
The convention that determines the legal status of the body of water and rights and responsibilities of the littoral states has been 22 years in the making.
Work on the convention began in 1996, with the foreign ministers of the five states reaching consensus on its draft in Moscow in 2017.
Leaders of the five states will also establish the Caspian Economic Forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday.
The Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water by area and is variously classified as the world's largest lake or a full-fledged sea.