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Russian envoy backs warmer ties with Arctic nations

Arctic nations must cease their posturing for control of the icy north and "act collectively" to tap its purported vast undiscovered resource riches, a Russian diplomat said Tuesday.

The Arctic Ocean seabed is believed to hold up to one-third of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

But the harsh northern climate poses "big challenges" for anyone hoping to mine its natural resources, Russia's Charge d'Affaires Sergey Petrov told a press conference on the heals of high-level visits to Canada and Russia.

And so, it is "wise to act collectively," he said.

Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean -- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States -- claim overlapping parts of the Arctic seabed, which is estimated to hold 90 billion untapped barrels of oil.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) stipulates that any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone.

Nations can also extend that limit to up to 350 nautical miles from their coast if they can provide scientific proof that the undersea continental plate is a natural extension of their territory.

Each nation has lately stepped up surveying to bolster claims and the international rivalry in the region has heated up as melting polar ice caps make the area more accessible for research and economic activity.

In February, Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay lamented the skirting of Canada's northern frontier by a Russian bomber on a routine patrol on the eve of US President Barack Obama's first official visit to Ottawa.

He also dismissed a Russian flag-planting at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean under the North Pole in 2007 as a "stunt," and both nations have since increased their northern military deployments.

Two years earlier, a diplomatic spat between Canada and Denmark over tiny, barren Hands Island, between Ellesmere Island and Greenland, escalated into a war of words and calls for a boycott of Danish pastries.

Meanwhile, Canada and the United States remain at odds over control of the Northwest Passage and the resource-rich Beaufort Sea, which touches both Alaska and Canada's northern territories.

Petrov's comments offering the first signs of thawing in relations come after Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day last week led 33 Canadian companies on a trade mission to Russia, while Konstantin Chuychenko, aide to Russia's president and head of its Control Directorate, visited Canada.

Part of bilateral discussions included starting regular transpolar flights between Russia's Krasnoyarsk region and Winnipeg in western Canada.

But Petrov also lamented alleged meddling in Arctic matters by "outside players" who wish to share in the spoils, naming only the European Union as an example.

"These countries that do not border the Arctic Ocean want to participate in the process of delimitating boundaries and everything that happens in the Arctic.

"But it is for us (nations that border the Arctic Ocean) to decide the future of this region," under the auspices of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said.

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Publication:AFP American Edition
Date:Jun 30, 2009
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