An Alaska senator said the State Department called his office today to say that they would be creating a post for a U.S. ambassador to the Arctic.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) introduced the United States Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs Act a year ago, pressing Secretary of State John Kerry to make the appointment on economic and national security grounds.
Six of the eight Arctic nations currently have ambassador-level diplomats representing their interests before the Arctic Council. The United States will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015.
“It’s not always easy explaining to Washington bureaucrats how things are different at home in Alaska, but today’s decision by Secretary of State John Kerry to finally create an Arctic Ambassador is an important step in the right direction,” said Begich. “The bottom line is that the changes we see in the Arctic warrant a higher level of involvement from the U.S. and this position will allow us to better exercise leadership and vision in Arctic policy moving forward.”
Begich first introduced a bill pushing for an American Arctic Ambassador when he came to the Senate in 2008 and he’s reintroduced it each Congress.
His bill in the 113th Congress had one co-sponsor, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
According to that legislation, the Arctic ambassador would “represent the United States in matters and cases relevant to Arctic affairs in (A) contacts with foreign governments, intergovernmental organizations, and specialized agencies of the United Nations, the Arctic Council, and other international organizations of which the United States is a member; and (B) multilateral conferences and meetings relating to Arctic affairs.”
“The Ambassador shall be a principal adviser to the President and the Secretary of State regarding matters affecting Arctic affairs and shall make recommendations regarding the policies of the United States relating to Arctic affairs.”
Kerry attended the meeting of the Arctic Council — Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States — in Sweden on May 15.
Heightening concern was China’s use of the Arctic in August as a sea shortcut from the Atlantic to the Pacific by hugging the Russian coast.
“The reason China and those other countries are knocking on the door is that they all want get observer status in the council, because the only countries in the council are the countries that border round the Arctic,” Kerry told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations in April.
No word on whether the Arctic ambassador will have to have ever been to the Arctic.
“I don’t have any personnel announcements to make, but we may very well at some point soon, but nothing to announce at this point,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at today’s press briefing.