Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be warming to the idea of appointing a U.S. ambassador to the Arctic.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who introduced the United States Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs Act of 2013 in February, pressed Kerry to make the appointment on economic and national security grounds at a Monday hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign Operations.
“This country needs an Arctic Ambassador to protect and advocate for America’s Arctic presence,” Begich said. “I’m pleased that Sec. Kerry is keeping an open mind on this issue and I will continue to press the State Department on the economic and national security importance of appointing an Arctic Ambassador.”
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 two years, in 2015.
Kerry is attending the next 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 committee.
But he’s also using it as a push for one of his cherished goals as senator: ratification of the UN Law of the Sea Treaty.
“Right now, the Chinese and the Russians are laying the map, staking the claim, getting a head start on this sort of reservation on the resources of the future,” Kerry said. “We’re sitting around.”
Begich’s Alaska ambassador bill has no co-sponsors.