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Summit seeks accord on Arctic sovereignty

Latest update : 2008-05-28

The five nations that ring the Arctic Ocean affirmed Wednesday their willingness to cooperate to protect its environment, at the end of a day-long ministerial summit in Greenland.. (Report: G.Cragg)

"We will take steps in accordance with international law... to ensure the protection and the preservation of the fragile environment of the Arctic Ocean," said a statement agreed by envoys from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.

"We intend to work together, including through the International Maritime Organization, to strengthen existing measures and to develop new measures to improve the safety of maritime navigation and prevent or reduce the risk of ship-based pollution in the Arctic Ocean," it added.

The five nations went on to pledge to strengthen cooperation over the Arctic Ocean -- including scientific research -- "based on mutual trust and transparency."

The summit in Ilulissat, on Greenland's west coast, was the first to be held at ministerial level between the five regional powers.

It was aimed at easing recent tensions as each nation seeks to extend its sovereignty to the Arctic waters that could hold 25 percent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas, according to the US Geological Survey.

"There is great need for a new (North) Pole policy for taking seriously the challenges which will come from the increase of human activities around the Arctic," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said earlier Wednesday, before heading into the meeting.

Discussions focused on improving "the basis for a sustainable development in the Arctic, while at the same time pursuing or maintaining a leading position in technological developments for all parties," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller added.

Russia was represented at the conference in Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, by its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

The United States was represented by its deputy foreign policy chief John Negroponte, and Canada by its natural resources minister Gary Lunn.

"It is important to come together and talk about... global warming and the increased possibilities of using the Arctic area for many different purposes," Negroponte told AFP on the eve of the conference.

"Maybe there are some differences, but they are going to be worked out. The Arctic can be an area of cooperation," he added.

Rivalry between the five Arctic neighbours has heated up as the melting polar ice makes the region more accessible. Scientists say the Northwest Passage could open up to year-round shipping by 2050.

Denmark and Canada, for instance, have a longstanding disagreement over who owns the tiny, uninhabited, ice-covered Hans island, which straddles Nares Strait between Greenland and Canada's Ellesmere Island.

Canada and the United States are meanwhile at odds over the sovereignty of the Northwest Passage, which links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Last year, Russian explorers claimed to have planted their national flag at the bottom of the ocean, at a depth of more than 4,000 metres (yards), after an expedition aimed at underlining Moscow's aspirations to Arctic territory.

According to international law, each of the countries bordering the Arctic hold sovereignty over a zone measuring 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres). That leaves 1.2 million square kilometres (465,000 square miles) of unclaimed territory.

Date created : 2008-05-28