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Petroleum News: ‘You can have the land, not the water’: U.S./Canada simmering cross-border tensions over sovereignty in the Arctic

Week of November 12, 2006

The simmering cross-border tensions over sovereignty in the Arctic keep building, with the U.S. government rebuffing Canada’s claim to control the Northwest Passage.

Some fleeting hope for Ottawa came from former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, who said it would be better for Washington to acknowledge Canadian sovereignty over the waterway rather than turning it into an international straight open to ships from any country.

He said it was in the best interests of U.S. security to put the Northwest Passage under Canada’s control.

Just a day later, the current U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins shot down that idea.

He said the Bush administration views the Northwest Passage as a strait for international navigation, although Washington thinks Canada controls the Arctic islands.

That leaves open the question of who would control the vast oil and gas resources that have been discovered under the Arctic Ocean.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said earlier this year he will send three armed icebreakers to defend Canada’s claims to the passage.

Currently, Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers are unarmed and crewed only by civilians.

—Gary Park

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