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Ratify Law of the Sea.

Byline: The Register-Guard

There's been a mad scramble in the Arctic in recent months by nations intent on claiming the Arctic Ocean and the billions of tons of oil that lie beneath it.

Russia, Canada and Denmark have all launched ventures to mark their respective claims to this frigid, mineral-rich region. Russia has gone so far as to drop a rust-proof titanium flag 15,000 feet deep at the North Pole.

Meanwhile the United States is standing limply on the sideline, because it is the only Arctic-bordering nation that hasn't ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As a result of its failure to approve this treaty, the United States is unable to participate in the international decision-making body that governs deep sea drilling in the Arctic, where climate change is fast melting ice and opening the door to new energy and mineral operations.

The U.S. Senate has an opportunity to remedy this untenable situation when it reconvenes this fall. With 90 senators, the Bush administration, the U.S. Navy, the bipartisan Joint Ocean Commission Initiative, every major U.S. ocean industry and an array of environmental interests supporting the treaty, there's no excuse for lawmakers to delay any longer.

Yet delay is precisely what the Senate has done for the past quarter century since the treaty was established in 1982. The Reagan administration actually led international talks on the treaty but ultimately refused to sign it because of concerns over what it called a "giveaway" of deep sea minerals. The U.S. rationale was that the ocean's natural resources belong to those with the capital and technological means of extracting them.

Under President George H.W. Bush, the United States led renegotiations that resulted in the treaty being rewritten to address most of the problems raised by the Reagan administration, but ratification was thwarted in the Senate. President Clinton actually signed the treaty in 1994, but a Senate vote was blocked by a handful of conservative senators who believed the treaty would threaten American sovereignty. Or, as North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms put it, the Senate should refuse to ratify any treaty that fails to give the United States "a greater vote than anyone else."

Now, President George W. Bush says he fully supports the treaty and intends to push for its ratification. That's welcome news, because the treaty not only governs ocean boundaries and mineral resources, but also provides legal frameworks for determining rights of passage by military and commercial vessels, scientific research, pollution control and environmental resources.

Given thatoceans cover more than 70 percent of Earth's surface, surely it's in America's best interest to come to the international table known as the Law of the Sea.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; America stands on the sideline in Arctic scramble
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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