Monday, August 20, 2007

MONTEBELLO, Quebec (AP) — Canada‘s prime minister is expected to assert his nation’s claim to the fabled Northwest Passage through the warming, resource-rich Arctic at talks with President Bush that start today.

Canada claimed the passage in 1973, but competition to control the Arctic has intensified with global warming. Shrinking polar ice has raised the possibility of new shipping lanes and development of what one U.S. study suggested could be as much as 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.

Russia sent two small submarines to plant a tiny national flag under the North Pole this month. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper went to the Arctic earlier this month and announced Canada will build a new army training center and a deep-water port in the Northwest Passage.

The summit involving Mr. Bush, Mr. Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon is largely about expanding economic cooperation among the three nations, but Mr. Harper will assert Canada’s claim during a private meeting with Mr. Bush, Canadian officials said at a press briefing on the summit.

The United States and Norway also have claims in the Arctic, and the U.S. says the passage isn’t Canadian.

“It is a strait for international navigation,” U.S. Ambassador David H. Wilkins said in an interview. “That’s not a unique view of the United States. That is the view shared by a majority of the countries in the world.”

Mr. Harper said Canada’s new military installations will help back Canada’s claim to the waters and natural resources of the Northwest Passage, which runs below the North Pole from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Arctic archipelago.

Stephen Clarkson, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, said highlighting the Arctic is a way for Mr. Harper to show Canadians he’s not too close to the unpopular president.

“It’s a gratuitous way to create a little distance between himself and Bush,” Mr. Clarkson said.

Mr. Bush will arrive this afternoon in Ottawa before taking a helicopter to Montebello, which is between Ottawa and Montreal.

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