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US should create ambassadorship to Arctic, congressmen say

Sailors aboard the Virginia-class attack submarine USS New Mexico tie mooring lines after the sub surfaces through the arctic ice at Ice Camp Nautilus, north of Alaska, in this Saturday, March 22, 2014, photo.

WASHINGTON — The United States has an ambassador to Fiji and the Kingdom of Tonga.

Yet we have no ambassador to a region that might hold more vital American interests: the warming Arctic.

That’s the omission U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen would like to fix. The Washington state Democrat on Wednesday joined Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin to introduce a bill to establish the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Affairs. The post is meant to centralize U.S. Arctic policy and to signal the country’s seriousness in guarding its interests.

“The Arctic is fast becoming the 21st century version of the Northwest Passage,” Larsen said in a statement. “An ambassador-level position takes an important step to coordinate U.S. commercial, environmental and security interests in the region.”

Thanks in part to climate change, the Arctic is increasingly accessible for scientific, commercial and tourist explorations by China, Russia and other nations. Larsen, along with Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, has pushed for the United States to beef up its two-ship ice breaker fleet.

Currently, 20 federal agencies, including the State Department, the Pentagon and the National Science Foundation, share oversight for Arctic policy. The Sensenbrenner-Larsen legislation would vest that responsibility in the ambassador, who would serve as chair of the Arctic Council, when the United States gets a turn in 2015. The council is an eight-nation international forum for Arctic issues. Member states include Canada, Russia, Iceland, Denmark and Finland.

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