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Clinton blasts Canada for exclusive Arctic talks

“I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions”

By SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS

RANDY BOSWELL AND JULIET O’NEILL
CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

CHELSEA, Que. — A carefully orchestrated effort by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to show international leadership on polar affairs by hosting an Arctic summit near Ottawa ended awkwardly Monday after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Canada for excluding aboriginal leaders and three northern nations – Iceland, Finland and Sweden – from the gathering.

Clinton’s bombshell, delivered in a prepared statement as she was meeting with Cannon and foreign ministers from three other Arctic coastal nations -— Denmark, Norway and Russia — cast a cloud over a meeting that was intended to show solidarity among the ocean’s five shoreline states and highlight their “unique” position as chief guardians of the region’s environment and resource riches.

“Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region,” said Clinton, “and I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions.

“We need all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do, and not much time to do it.

“What happens in the Arctic will have broad consequences for the earth and its climate. The melting of sea ice, glaciers, and permafrost will affect people and ecosystems around the world,” she said “and understanding how these changes fit together is a task that demands international co-operation.”

At a post-summit news conference where Cannon was unexpectedly left alone to answer questions, the event’s host was left on the defensive.

Cannon insisted that the “Arctic Five” is not intended to be a permanent institution and asserted that their second meeting in two years was in no way intended to undermine the Arctic Council, which includes Iceland, Finland and Sweden, as well as indigenous groups and other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, with observer status.

Cannon said the “unique” position of the five countries on the Arctic seacoast justified a separate meeting because “Arctic Ocean coastal states will be most directly affected by new public safety challenges “and other issues, such as fisheries management, arising in an era of rapidly retreating ice cover.

“Arctic Ocean coastal states have an important stewardship role in the region,” he stated.

The other leaders attending the summit were Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store and Denmark’s justice minister, Lars Barfoed.

Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist, who attended as part of the Danish delegation, acknowledged there were “undercurrents” of tension between the participating ministers.

But he said Clinton’s comments are sure to be welcomed by northern aboriginal leaders and the three excluded Arctic Council countries.

“I certainly agree with the Secretary Clinton on her remarks about the indigenous peoples and the need for their involvement in such a serious process concerning the Arctic area’s future,” Kleist told Canwest News Service in an interview.

“The five coastal states, of course, have their specific interests. The thing about these three other countries is that they are members of the Arctic Council – which is the main organization to discuss issues on the Arctic,” he added.

“I would say that I understand the frustrations expressed by them.”

But Kleist said that, generally, there was a constructive attitude among the five Arctic ministers and a clear commitment to reduce conflict and create workable, co-operative approaches to confronting challenges in the polar region – most urgently around disaster management and search-and-rescue regimes.

Earlier in the day, the Norwegian minister acknowledged it is “not a good thing” that Iceland, Sweden and Finland were “unhappy” about being excluded from the gathering.

While Store reaffirmed that the five countries with an Arctic Ocean coastline have a special status “given to us by geography,” he indicated that meetings of the coastal states should not be used to undermine the role of the broader Arctic Council, which embraces various northern aboriginal groups as “permanent participants” in researching and shaping international Arctic policies.

“We should keep the Arctic Council relevant,” he said, adding that the council should remain the principal “venue for circumpolar Arctic discussions.”

The announcement earlier this year of the planned Arctic summit had prompted sharp criticism from Canada’s Inuit leaders and public criticism from a top Icelandic official.

“It is inconceivable that the government of Canada would contemplate holding a conference to discuss economic development and environmental protection in the Arctic without the active participation of Inuit, who will have to live with the consequences of any new government policies. This reeks of paternalism,” Pita Aatami, a leader with the Ottawa-based Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, said earlier about the meeting.

To many in the European Union — which was recently blocked by Canada and others from gaining even “observer” status at the Arctic Council because of the continent’s ban on seal products — the brainstorming session represented a troublesome narrowing of polar interests at a time when the wider world, including China and India, is angling for greater involvement in charting the future of the circumpolar realm.

“It is worrying,” left-leaning British EU representative Diana Wallis said earlier this month during a parliamentary debate about the Arctic, “that we see the development of an inner core of five coastal states of the Arctic meeting outside the architecture of the Arctic Council. This could seriously undermine a very precious cooperation and it has to be treated with some seriousness.”

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