Thursday, April 30, 2009

Will Negotiations Trump Canadian Sovereign Rights in Head Harbour Passage?

Is it time for another "comfort" statement from Greg Thompson and Ottawa.


By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

TROMSOE, Norway, April 28 (Reuters) - The United States will seek cooperation with Russia and other Arctic states as global warming thaws the polar region, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said on Tuesday.

He told Reuters that he hoped the new strategy would help resolve regional disputes -- such as with Canada over rights to the Northwest Passage that could become a short-cut shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans if ice melts.

"We want to find win-win approaches that benefit everybody," Steinberg, making his first visit to Europe since taking office, said on the sidelines of a two-day meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council in the Norwegian Arctic town of Tromsoe.

He said Washington viewed global warming, which is strongly affecting the Arctic, as one of the "quintessential problems of our times" that can only be solved by international cooperation.

Washington would seek to work with Russia and other states in the Arctic Council -- Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, he said.

"It's largely a question of protecting the environment, providing opportunities for indigenous people, benefiting all of us economically -- if it can be done consistently with our environmental values," he said.

The thaw is disrupting the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and threatening wildlife such as polar bears. It may open the region to more oil and gas exploration, mining or shipping.

"Too often the problem we have had is that by pursuing too narrow a definition of our national interest we don't in the end benefit our own people, much less deal with these transnational problems" such as global warming, he said.

Under former President George W. Bush, the United States was the only industrialised nation to remain outside the U.N. Kyoto Protocol for curbing greenhouse gases. President Barack Obama has promised tougher action to cut U.S. emissions.


Steinberg said that Washington viewed the Northwest Passage, which opened past Canadian Arctic islands when Arctic summer ice shrank in 2007 to the lowest since satellite records began, as an international waterway.

Canada argues it has full sovereignty and that the route is in its territorial waters. "The United States has a traditional view that this is an international waterway and that's an approach that we will take," Steinberg said.

But he said that he hoped the standoff over the shortcut route between the Pacific and Atlantic could be solved. "I think it's a conversation we can have and work through," he said.

And he said the Arctic could be a test for a more cooperative relationship with Russia. "I hope so...They have a lot of interests there. We have to find cooperative strategies," he said.

Russia planted a flag beneath the North Pole in 2007 as a symbolic claim to the region -- Denmark also says that the pole is Danish.

Steinberg also said that Obama wanted the U.S. Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

He said that more economic activity would mean more security worries in the north, such as a need for search and rescue after accidents. But he said security was not a dominant concern.

"I don't think we see it primarily through a security paradigm," he said, but added: "There's piracy off the coast of Somalia, so maybe we'd have to worry about it in the Arctic."
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