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Critics lukewarm on US plans in Arctic region

Posted: May 14, 2013 - 12:07am

WASHINGTON — A new U.S. strategy for the Arctic region has gotten a lukewarm response from a think tank that says the plan amounts to a “lengthy wish list” with few specifics.

The tepid feedback from the Washington-based Arctic Institute comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry heads Monday to Sweden for a meeting of foreign ministers focused on Arctic issues.

Syria, Iran and Afghanistan also are on Kerry’s agenda for discussion with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, according to the State Department.

The Arctic Institute praised the new White House strategy for at least outlining U.S. priorities in the icy region. Unveiled last week, the blueprint vows to protect American security, safeguard the environment and strengthen ties with foreign nations as the U.S. moves forward in the Arctic.

But the think tank said the strategy is missing examples of many specific projects to be undertaken, and lacks assessments of future U.S. capabilities in the Arctic circle. It also rapped the plan for failing to commit funding plans for the strategy.

The White House last week said it does not expect to receive more funding for the strategy.

“Without a clear budgetary plan, this strategy becomes nothing more than a lengthy wish list,” said institute researcher Mihaela David. “Despite a good faith effort at articulating policy priorities and formulating mutually reinforcing objectives, the U.S. Arctic strategy remains as elusive (as) a mirage on the Arctic ice sheet.”

Global warming has melted sea ice to levels that have given rise to what experts describe as a kind of gold rush scramble to the Arctic. U.S. officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits. Until recently, however, the resources that could reap hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues were frozen over and unreachable.

Last year, China joined Russia, Denmark and Canada and the United States in the competition, sending its first icebreaker ship through the Arctic — even though China doesn’t abut Arctic territory. China is among 14 governments now are seeking rights to attend meetings of the eight-nation Arctic Council as observers. The council traditionally seeks to address issues and problems facing the Arctic, like climate change and the region’s indigenous people. It holds high-level meetings every two years, where it issues non-binding declarations about its future goals and past work.

Because of Alaska’s inclusion in the Arctic circle, the U.S. is a member of the Arctic Council, which meets Tuesday and Wednesday in Kiruna, Sweden.

Jyrki Kallio, a China expert at Finnish Institute of International Affairs, downplayed Beijing’s interest in the Arctic — but predicted it will rise soon. China is the world’s largest energy consumer and an uneasy U.S. ally.

“It is in China’s interests now to make investments in the Arctic and prepare for the future,” Kallio said. “By doing some little preparation today, it will be ready for things (to) start happening in the Arctic within the next decade.”

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Associated Press Television News Senior Producer David MacDougall contributed to this report from Helsinki, Finland.

Follow Lara Jakes on Twitter at https://twitter.com/larajakesAP

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