Norway Urges Russia to Stick to International Law in Arctic

OSLO (Dow Jones Newswires), September 18, 2008

All territorial claims in the Arctic must fall within the strict framework of the international Law of the Sea, Norway said Thursday in reaction to Russian plans to formally set its borders in the oil-rich region.

"Norway and Russia have until now shared very common positions on this, resorting to the Law of the Sea and the existing principles," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told reporters in Oslo.

"I presume that this is also the basis for the reasoning when (Russian President Dmitry Medvedev) says Russia is working on this question," he added.

His comments came after Medvedev on Wednesday stressed the "strategic importance" of the Arctic region for his country, and said Russia needed to "wrap up all the formalities for drawing the external border in the continental shelf."

"It's not unnatural. When he speaks of the importance of clarifying the questions that are possibly still up in the air, that is something all the countries (in the region) feel strongly about," Stoere said.

Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean - Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the U.S. - dispute the sovereignty over parts of the region, which has been estimated to contain around 90 billion untapped barrels of oil.

The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, stipulates that any coastal state can claim territory 200 nautical miles from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone.

Nations can also extend that limit to up to 350 nautical miles from their coast if they can provide scientific proof that the undersea continental plate is a natural extension of their territory.

Moscow in 2001 submitted a request to the U.N. to extend its territory to the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic.

Canada and Denmark however also claim that the ridge is an extension of their own continental shelves.

"Up until now, the Russians have elaborately documented their claims," Stoere said.

"It would be very unwise to use other means than those stipulated by the Law of the Sea. I assume Russia will stick to that and I have no reason to believe otherwise," he added.

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