BAKU, Azerbaijan, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Projects meant to exploit the strategic position of the Caspian Sea and its oil and natural gas are national priorities, Azerbaijan, Iran and Russia said.
The Iranian and Russian presidents met with their Azeri counterpart in the nation's capital, Baku, to review trilateral relations. All three are energy rich and positioned to take advantage of opportunities in the Caspian Sea.
In a statement, Russian President Putin said the nations could work together to create a regional counterpart to Western trade corridors.
"In the energy industry, priority should be given to the implementation of projects for the exploration and development of oil and gas deposits, first of all in the Caspian region," he said. "We are ready to discuss mutually beneficial projects on the joint use of pipeline infrastructure for the transit of raw materials."
Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, holds sizable reserves of natural gas and European leaders are waiting to tap into its offshore Shah Deniz field in an effort to break Russia's grip on the energy sector. Iran and Russia, meanwhile, are working to counter sanctions pressures to advance their own regional oil and gas interests.
During his visit to Baku in February, U.S. special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs Amos J. Hochstein said the Shah Deniz gas project was a "long-standing" priority for the U.S. government.
Putin spent most of the summer courting his Azeri and Iranian counterparts, meeting separately with each of the leaders since June. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said trade relations with Russia have improved since the signing of multilateral nuclear agreement last year. Russia already supplies Iran with some of the fuel it needs to power its Bushehr nuclear power plant.
For Azerbaijan, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said his third meeting with Putin in as many years "in itself reflects the high level of relations between our countries."
All parties dispute territorial claims to Caspian waters and in the early 2000s, Azerbaijan accused Iran of a "grave violation" for alleged threats to an Azeri oil research vessel in the area.