Arctic claimants say they will obey U.N. rules

Wed May 28, 2008 6:35pm EDT
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By Kim McLaughlin

ILULISSAT, Greenland (Reuters) - Five Arctic coastal nations agreed on Wednesday to let the U.N. rule on conflicting territorial claims on the region's seabed, which may hold up to one fourth of the world's undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves.

"We affirmed our commitment to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims," U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte told a news conference.

Ministers from Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States met in Greenland for a two-day summit to discuss sovereignty over the Arctic Ocean seabed.

Under the 1982 U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, coastal states own the seabed beyond existing 200-nautical mile (370-km) zones if it is part of a continental shelf of shallower waters. The rules aim to fix shelves' outer limits on a clear geological basis, but have created a tangle of overlapping Arctic claims.

The United States has not yet ratified the convention, but Negroponte urged Congress to do so as soon as possible.

The countries, most major oil exporters, agreed to settle conflicting territorial claims by the law until a U.N. body could rule on the disputes.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller called the meeting in his country's self-governing province to try to end squabbling over ownership of huge tracts of the Arctic seabed, although it will be several decades before oil drilling in the deep Arctic sea is feasible.

Also attending were Greenland Premier Hans Enoksen, Russian and Norwegian Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov and Jonas Gahr Stoere and Canadian Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn.   Continued...

<p>Foreign ministers (L-R) Per Stig Moeller of Denmark, Sergej Lavrov of Russia, Jonas Gahr Stoere of Norway pose in front of a iceberg in the Ice Fjord near Ilulissat in Greenland May 28, 2008, before attending the Arctic Ocean Conference. REUTERS/Jan-Morten Bjoernbakk/Scanpix</p>