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Canada Raises Stakes In Battle To Claim The Arctic

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (AFP) August 9, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has embarked on an Arctic tour, one week after Russia planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's three-day "arctic sovereignty tour" is seen as an attempt to assert Canada's sovereignty claims in response to the Russian mission.

Russia Eyes Arctic Riches

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the mission was aimed at proving that Russia's continental shelf extends to the polar cap, which could give Moscow a claim to the untapped oil, gas, and mineral resources in the vast area.

"The goal of this expedition is not to plant a border post and assert Russia's rights, but to prove that our [continental] shelf stretches to the North Pole," Lavrov said on August 8. "There are concrete scientific methods for that. And I think this expedition, including the minisubmarine reaching the bottom of the Arctic Sea in the area of the North Pole, will supply additional scientific evidence for our aspiration."

Although the Russian mission to the seabed has little legal weight, the explorers collected geologic data that may be used to support Russian territorial claims.

Canada Claims "Aggressive Arctic Agenda"

Canada reacted quickly. Foreign Minister Peter Mackay poured scorn on the Russian expedition, saying Ottawa would never relinquish its territorial claims.

"There is no question over Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. We have made that very clear. We have established, a long time ago, that these are Canadian waters and this is Canadian property," said Mackay.

The Canadian prime minister's trip, which involves stops in half a dozen communities in Canada's far north, is intended to reinforce Ottawa's claim to more than 1.2 million square kilometers of Arctic seabed.

And Canada is in no mood for subtle diplomacy. On August 7, government spokesman Dimitri Soudas told journalists that Canada has "an aggressive Arctic agenda."

"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake -- this government intends to use it," says Prime Minister Stephen Harper

During his trip, Harper is expected to announce the establishment of Canada's first Arctic deep-water port. He will then meet up with 800 Canadian soldiers, federal police, and Inuit rangers training in the eastern Arctic.

The Canadian expedition known as Operation Nanook involves a Canadian Coast Guard frigate, a navy ship and submarine, fighter jets, and support aircraft operating out of Frobisher Bay, Hudson Strait, and Davis Strait.

Harper's Arctic foray follows plans, announced by Canada in July, to build six to eight ice-breaking patrol ships at a cost of $7.1 billion.

"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic," Harper said at the time. "We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake -- this government intends to use it."

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Russia, Canada, Norway, the United States, and Denmark -- through its Greenland territory -- each control a 200-nautical-mile (320-kilometer) exclusive economic zone in the Arctic Ocean extending past their coastlines.

Additional claims can be made on the basis of scientific evidence that a country's continental shelf extends beyond that radius.

Canada has until the year 2013 to file any additional sovereignty claims. Russia, which ratified the convention before Ottawa, has until 2009 to file its claims.

With the increasingly fast melting of the polar ice cap in recent years, the battle for the resources below is also rapidly heating up.

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