The presidents of the five coastal countries – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – agreed in August on the legal status of the sea after 22 years of negotiations. U.S. sanctions against Iran have somewhat devalued the importance of the agreement, particularly with regard to the implementation of economic projects in the region. However, the agreement can become the basis of a regional security system and provide the international legal basis for the creation of a good neighbourhood. This greatly reduces the risk of regional conflicts. The delicate issue of the distribution of the hydrocarbon-rich subsoil has been turbulent. Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the Kazakh Foreign Minister, told reporters: “The methodology for defining the basic lines of the state is defined in a separate agreement between all parties in accordance with this convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. This is a key phrase that is particularly important for our Iranian partners. Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have bilateral agreements based on middle lines. Because of their use by the three nations, the middle lines seem to be the most likely method to delimit the territory in future agreements.

However, Iran insists on a single multilateral agreement between the five nations (with a goal of one-fifth). Azerbaijan disagrees with Iran over some offshore oil deposits. Occasionally, Iranian patrol boats fired on ships sent by Azerbaijan to explore the disputed area. Similar tensions exist between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (the latter claims that the former pumped more oil than had been agreed by a field recognized as divided by both sides). The agreement, which sets rules for the construction of large cross-border projects such as a trans-Caspian pipeline, is of greater potential importance to Western energy companies. This means that there are, at least officially, political obstacles to this long-discussed project, and that its implementation depends exclusively on economic and security factors.