Document Type : Original Article
Assistant Professor of Political Geography,University of Birjand,Birjand, Iran
The northern zone of the Persian Gulf is one of the world's maritime zones whose delimitation of maritime and continental shelf boundaries have remained unfinished due to various political, geographical, geopolitical, economical, technical and legal issues. In the meantime, the political / spatial phenomenon of the "neutral / divided zone" between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as one of the heritages of Britain's presence and performance in the Middle East is one of the phenomena that have its particular impact on the process of delimiting the maritime boundaries of the Persian Gulf.
Just in the 1960s, when the two countries of Iran and Kuwait were determined to delimit their continental shelf boundaries in the Persian Gulf, and were close to reaching a consensus, Kuwait was also negotiating with its other neighbor, Saudi Arabia to determine the "Neutral zone". Although the Iranian-Arabian attempts to delimit the continental shelf boundary of Iran and Kuwait did not achieve the desired result for a variety of reasons, including issues related to the "neutral / divided zone", on the western side of the Persian Gulf, Arabian-Arabian efforts of the two adjacent neighbors came to an end, and the neutral zone was divided between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, in 1965 and its supplementary agreement in 1969.
The present study is a descriptive-analytic research in terms of method. The various materials were collected using primary sources and documents, agreements, library and the Internet resources. In order to investigate the effects of the political-spatial phenomenon of the neutral / divided zone and the process of its evolution, documents related to the agreements and developments in this zone since 1922 (the year of the establishment of the neutral zone) were collected.
Results and discussion
The northern region of Persian Gulf is one of the maritime areas with few maritime boundary agreements. In this area, the maritime boundaries between Iran and Iraq, Iraq- Kuwait, Kuwait and Iran, Iran and the divided zone should be delimited. Also, the only agreed maritime boundary between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is questioned by Iran. In this regard, completing the process of territoriality in this area, in addition to delimiting the aforementioned maritime boundaries requires agreements on two tree points (Iran, Kuwait and Iraq) and (Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia).
The two agreements on the division of the neutral zone not only did not remove the barriers to the delimitation of continental shelf boundaries of Iran-Kuwait and Iran- neutral/divided zone, but added to its complexity. In addition, an agreement was signed between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 2000, in which the two countries ended their disputes over the ownership of the Qaruh and Umm al-Maradim Islands, and their maritime boundary, as well as the northern and southern limits of the "Common Development Area" was delimited. Besides, the two countries have agreed that the natural resources in the submerged area adjacent to the divided zone shall be owned in common. This agreement was challenged by Iran.
Therefore, the process of the delimitation of the maritime boundaries in the north of the Persian Gulf, in addition to the previous disagreements, including disputes on oil and gas fields, the refusal of the baselines and the use of some islands in the drawing of the straight baseline, are faced with complexities and new disputes as a result of the articles of Agreements between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Among the disputes to be noted, is the agreement between the two countries of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on joint ownership and exploitation of natural resources in the submerged area adjacent to the divided zone.
Currently, although Iran and the two other countries have protests over the operation of each other in this region and their positions on the delimitation of maritime boundaries of the divided zone are not the same, the parties emphasize the resolution of these issues through negotiation and agreement, and it can be said that the instrument of diplomacy, understanding and cooperation is efficient enough to solve such complex problems.
The emergence of the spatial-political phenomenon of neutral zone was a product of the territoriality process and the British politics and power with geopolitical goals. But this phenomenon and related issues, including its oil reserves and islands that were subject to dispute between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as the evolution of this zone affected by the Agreement on the partition of the Neutral Zone (1965) and the Supplementary Agreement (1969) and the Kuwait/ Saudi Arabia Agreement concerning the submerged area adjacent to the divided zone(2000) have mutually influenced the political-legal process of delimiting the maritime boundaries of the north of the Persian Gulf, in general, and the delimitation of the Iranian-Kuwaiti maritime boundary, in particular. Issues and disputes surrounding the region, although resolved on the western side and between adjacent neighboring countries, have complicated the process of delimiting the maritime boundaries in this region with the opposite neighboring country "Iran". In particular, now that both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have agreed on joint ownership and exploitation of natural resources in the submerged area adjacent to the divided zone and act as a single negotiating party, it is in contradiction with Iran's position that seeks to delimit its maritime boundaries with the divided zone, separately with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. One of the most important results of the agreements is that at present, claimants of offshore resources between Iran and the divided zone have increased to three countries. The two countries, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have adopted a joint development and exploitation policy, as well as in official correspondence and protests that have been registered between 2011 and 2017, as a single negotiating party.
Consequently, although the divisions of the neutral zone and agreement between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Kuwait concerning the submerged area adjacent to the divided zone have brought about a new complexity in the process of delimiting boundaries in this region, since related parties still emphasize the tools of negotiation and diplomacy in delimiting maritime borders, and there are five decades of negotiation between Kuwait and Iran on the delimitation of maritime boundaries that have come about with good agreements and understandings, the experiences of these and other countries in settling disputes over shared resources can all serve to reach agreement and delimit the maritime boundaries in this region.