Norway Govt Presents Strategy for Contested Arctic Waters

Dow Jones Newswires

OSLO, Dec 01, 2006 (AP)

Norway's government Friday presented its strategy for underscoring Norway's claim to often contested Arctic waters rich in fish and offshore oil, as well as for improving ties to its powerful northern neighbor Russia.

The long-term policy paper contained few specific proposals. It said the country would seek to increase knowledge, protect the environment in the Arctic and improve the lives of its residents, including the indigenous Sami reindeer herders.

"Our efforts will create jobs, ensure better protection of the environment, safeguard Norwegian sovereignty and maintain good neighborly relations," said Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who presented the paper in Tromsoe, the main city of the Norwegian Arctic.

The Nordic nation of 4.6 million people claims sovereignty over vast areas of northern waters, including an often disputed economic zone around its Svalbard Islands north of the mainland.

This week, Norway also submitted a claim with the international Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that would add another 250,000 square kilometers in the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Under that claim, Norway sought to document that its continental shelf extends beyond an internationally accepted 200 nautical mile economic zone from a nation's coast, giving it rights to oil and minerals beneath the ocean floor.

"The High North has been firmly placed on the map of Europe. Decision makers in other countries have realized that the High North has significance that extends far beyond Norway's borders," said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, appearing with Stoltenberg.

The growing interest is spurred in part by the hope that the waters contain vast new energy supplies. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that 20% to 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas may be in the Arctic.

However, it's also a region where international disputes simmer. Few countries accept Norway's claim to the fish rich waters around Svalbard, leading to frequent confrontations, especially between Russian, Spanish and Icelandic fishing trawlers and Norwegian inspectors. Norway and Russia also dispute their border in the Barents Sea.

The policy paper also said international cooperation was critical, as was expanding knowledge about the region and nurturing its indigenous culture. The government will follow with specific proposals to parliament in the coming years.

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