Skip to main content

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon greets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she arrives at an Arctic leaders meeting meeting in Chelsea, Que., on March 29, 2010.CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left a summit of Arctic coastal countries Monday after criticizing Canada for not inviting all those with legitimate interests in the polar region.

Ms. Clinton didn't attend the news conference scheduled for the end of the one-day meeting of five foreign ministers after saying she'd been contacted by indigenous groups disappointed they were not invited.

Ms. Clinton also said Arctic states Sweden, Finland and Iceland were similarly concerned they were given the cold shoulder.

"Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region," the U.S. Secretary of State said.

"And I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions."

Earlier, Norway's Foreign Minister said Canada and its polar allies must keep a cool head and work with Russia to solve Arctic disputes.

"We sometimes analyze Russia with old mental maps, with the mental maps of the Cold War, where we have instinctive reactions to what we see and hear," Jonas Gahr Store said.

"One should not put all mental maps to the shredder. But I think updating mental maps ... analyzing it coolly is the responsibility of modern government."

Mr. Store didn't refer to Canada directly, but the Harper government has criticized Moscow in recent years over what it views as provocative conduct in the Far North. A Russian submarine planted a flag on the seabed of the North Pole and Moscow has sent bombers close - but never into - Canadian Arctic airspace.

"Not everything Russia does in the Arctic, not every flag they plant, which is a symbolic gesture, has legal meaning," he said. "And the more you react to that ... you give it meaning."

As much as one-quarter of Earth's undiscovered oil and gas is believed to be in the Arctic and climate change is causing the rapid melting of Arctic ice, opening resource exploration potential.

Russia and Denmark also attended the Arctic forum.

Mr. Store said Russia has legitimate interests in the Arctic and much of the resource wealth is in its sovereign territory, which should minimize future disputes.

However, maintaining relations with Moscow is complicated because Russia is not quite a "normal" state, he added.

"Russia is in transition, and as some of their able analysts are saying, they are lost in transition ... It is not certain in what state they will be when that transition ends.

"We are all served by seeing that transition landing softly into something where Russia can still be called a democracy with rule of law, civil society, freedom of press, and freedom of expression."

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon hosted the meeting to discuss economic development and the environment in the North.

Aboriginal groups protested their exclusion from the meeting.

Mr. Store and Mr. Cannon said Monday's meeting was not meant as a slight and does not undermine their respect for the larger Arctic Council, which represents all countries with Arctic interests. The countries meeting Monday have special issues to discuss because they are all coastal states, the ministers said.

"The Arctic Council, a Canadian initiative, is the leading international body through which we advance Canada's Arctic foreign policy objectives and promote northerners' interests," Mr. Cannon said.

He said going in that participants in Monday's meeting were to discuss "issues that relate to the continental mapping that fall under the United Nations Convention Law of the Seas."

Interact with The Globe