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U.S. to Appoint Arctic 'Special Representative' After Alaska Pressure

By Chris Klint, Senior Digital Producer, cklint@ktuu.com
Published On: Feb 14 2014 01:36:00 PM AKST
U.S. to Appoint Arctic 'Special Representative' After Alaska Pressure
ANCHORAGE -

The U.S. government will appoint a "special representative for the Arctic region," joining other nations pushing for greater influence above the Arctic Circle as its strategic and commercial importance grows.

According to Devon Kearns, a spokesperson for Sen. Mark Begich’s office, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talked on the phone with Begich Wednesday, and the State Department contacted him Friday, to confirm the establishment of the new position.

Both Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski have been pushing for the appointment. Begich, who says he spoke with Kerry Wednesday, hailed his Friday move as “an important step in the right direction.”

“The bottom line is that the changes we see in the Arctic warrant a higher level of involvement from the U.S. and this position will allow us to better exercise leadership and vision in Arctic policy moving forward,” Begich said in a statement.

In a January 2013 letter to President Obama released by Begich’s office, the senator points out the variety of nations which have assigned Arctic ambassadors to liaise with the intergovernmental Arctic Council. A group affiliated with the council, Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, held its first meeting in Girdwood Wednesday.

“Six Arctic nations -- Russia and Norway among them -- have named ambassador-level diplomats to represent their interests before the Arctic Council,” Begich wrote. “Non-Arctic nations also are taking a keen interest in this sphere, such as the People’s Republic of China, and others are seeking former observer standing before the Arctic Council. Even Singapore had named an ambassador to the Arctic, given its interests in international shipping.”

About 20 U.S. ambassadors are currently posted to organizations rather than specific countries. While some liaise with regional groups such as the African Union, the European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, none are presently assigned to a region of the globe.

There was no firm candidates or timetable set for appointing the first Arctic ambassador.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told The Associated Press Friday she had no personnel announcements to make, but might soon.