- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

President Bush is making a new push to ratify the long-stalled United Nations Law of the Sea treaty, but conservative opponents yesterday vowed to scuttle the far-reaching pact once again.

Environmental, business groups and other treaty supporters say the Democratic takeover of Congress presents the best chance to win Senate support for the 13-year-old accord, which was designed to set up an international legal framework governing navigation, exploration, research, mining and other activities on the world’s oceans.

“The Republican Senate leadership blocked even a floor vote on the treaty two years ago. That’s not going to happen this time,” said Randall D. Snodgrass, director of government relations at the World Wildlife Fund.

But Henry Lamb, executive vice president of the pro-market Environmental Conservation Organization and chairman of Sovereignty International, said anti-treaty activists were already organizing against the new push.

“We defeated it last time when they tried to sneak it past us. This time we’ve gotten advance warning,” Mr. Lamb said.

“The feeling against the treaty is just so universal on our side that it’s only a question of how many people we can contact and how much Cain we can raise.”

In a carefully choreographed announcement, the White House Tuesday quietly issued a statement calling on the Senate to ratify U.S. accession to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, as the treaty is formally known.

The Bush administration has long backed ratification, but Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, had pushed for a new public declaration by the president to head off conservative opposition.

Mr. Biden yesterday praised Mr. Bush’s “strong statement of support” and said he intended to consider the treaty in his committee “in the coming months.”

The same Senate panel backed the treaty on a 19-0 vote in 2004, but opposition led by Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, and then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, blocked a floor vote.

Mr. Bush argued that ratification would “give the United States a seat at the table when the rights that are vital to our interests are debated and interpreted.”

Two senior Senate Republicans — former Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and former Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska — immediately endorsed Mr. Bush’s call. The treaty needs a two-thirds majority in the Senate in order to be ratified.

But the treaty has long been a hot-button issue for conservative activists, who are a key constituency for the Bush administration. For them, the core issue isn’t mineral claims or fishing rights, but sovereignty.

Critics say the treaty sets up an “international seabed authority” with the power to write regulations and settle disputes involving such sensitive issues as mining rights, fishing, pollution and maritime research. They warn that the authority will be dominated by developing countries looking to restrict U.S. economic and security interests.

Some opponents say the treaty could even be used to curtail the Bush administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative, designed to halt illegal weapons shipping.

Mr. Lamb said the United States will be just one of 150 votes on treaty disputes and added that there were few limits to expanding the treaty’s jurisdiction once the United States ratifies the pact.

The treaty “starts out horrible, and can only get worse,” he said.

Treaty supporters counter that the Clinton administration was able to modify many of the anti-market provisions in the original treaty. Major U.S. maritime lobbies — including fishing, shipbuilding and energy companies — support the treaty.

The U.S. government has voluntarily complied with the convention for more than 20 years. Mr. Lugar said ratifying the pact would improve America’s image abroad.

“Ideological posturing and flat-out misrepresentations by a handful of amateur admirals have sought to cast a shadow over the treaty by suggesting that we are turning over our sovereignty to the United Nations,” Mr. Lugar said yesterday. “Their criticisms simply don’t hold water.”

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