Peace urged over contentious Arctic

Russian PM says nations staking territorial claim over mineral-rich region could resolve issue through dialogue.

    Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, has called for peace and co-operation over the Arctic as five nations move to stake their claims over the region's mineral riches.

    "We have heard futuristic predictions threatening a battle for the Arctic ... but we are carefully tracking the situation in the region, and we clearly see that the majority of scary scenarios about the Arctic do not have any real basis," he told an international conference in Moscow on Thursday.

    Russia, the US, Canada, Denmark and Norway have already laid claim to territory, which is believed to hold one quarter of the earth's untapped oil and gas reserves.

    But there is fear that competing claims may turn the Arctic into the next battleground.

    Putin and representatives of other Arctic nations have all stressed at the two-day forum that they expected the United Nations to rule on their rival claims.

    "Very serious economic and geopolitical interests intersect in the Arctic, but I have no doubt that all the problems existing in the Arctic, including problems over the continental shelf, can be resolved through an atmosphere of partnership," Putin said.

    On Wednesday Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Iceland's president, called for "Cold War" tensions between the countries to end, saying: "Countries should not discuss territorial claims against each other, but engage in dialogue."

    Russian claims

    The two-day meeting, called "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue", also comes a day after a British energy firm announced it had made its first discovery of oil off the coast of Greenland.

    US researchers have warned that global warming could leave the Arctic region ice-free by 2030, opening the area up to oil and gas exploration.

    Russia alarmed its Arctic neighbours when it planted a flag on the ocean floor under the North Pole in 2007 in a symbolic staking of its claim over the region.

    Last week it signed a maritime border treaty for the Barents Sea with Norway, where tens of billions of oil and gas reserves are believed to lie.

    The two countries have already begun tapping for mineral riches in the sea, with Norway's Statoil beginning its Snoehvit natural gas field in 2007.

    Russia's Gazprom, in conjunction with Statoil and France's Total, is developing the Shtokman gas field.

    Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's president, signed an Arctic strategy paper in 2008 that said the polar region must become the nation's "top strategic resource base" by 2020.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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