OTTAWA, Mar. 29th (Toronto Star) - Canada took a kicking as it hosted a five-nation Arctic summit that left three other countries and the Inuit that live at the top of the world out in the cold.
The meeting launched a two-day global gathering in the capital, where G8 foreign ministers will gather Tuesday to talk about sanctions against Iran, nuclear weapons, war in Afghanistan and other pressing international matters in advance of the leader’s summit in June.
But Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon appears to have started on the wrong foot while hosting talks where Russia has historically been the bogeyman and presumed Arctic aggressor.
It was a day spent discussing the challenges and duties that Arctic nations face: building northern search-and rescue capabilities; reporting rules for ships hauling people and cargo through the frosty waters; and environmental concerns like overfishing and pollution that weren’t necessary when the Arctic was a frigid no-man’s land.
But when he was standing alone at a microphone at Meech Lake, Cannon was challenged not on global warming, mapping the Arctic seabed and sharing mineral riches, or the massive military buildup in the North. Instead he fended off criticism from both inside and outside the meeting that key groups had been intentionally, and wrongly, left off the guest list.
The most stinging rebuke came from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region,” she said.
Presumably that would include Sweden, Finland, Iceland and the Inuit Circumpolar Council, representing the indigenous people of the North. Those four, plus the five countries gathered in Gatineau, make up the long-established Arctic Council, which many fear is being undermined by this new group.
“I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions,” Clinton said.
Reporters might have followed up on the criticisms if Clinton or any of the other foreign ministers had stuck around for a wrap-up news conference. Instead, Cannon stood alone, a decision apparently agreed to by ministers during the day’s deliberations.