‘Historic’ pact yields ‘huge’ promise

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s state visit was being called “historic” as it wound down on Tuesday, as was the surprise settlement of a longtime border dispute in the Barents and Arctic seas. The new agreement can lead to “huge” new “possibilities” in the northern areas, claimed Norway’s cabinet minister for business and trade.

The agreement announced by Medvedev and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg adds an estimated 88,000 square kilometers to Norwegian territory. It was Stoltenberg who called the agreement “historic” and applied the term to Medvedev’s entire state visit as well.

Norway and Russia had been quarreling for more than four decades over where the border should run between their respective parts of the Barents Sea and the Arctic Sea. The dispute was considered the thorniest problem in relations between the two countries

Progress was made at a meeting Stoltenberg had with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Helsinki earlier this year, but few expected it would be resolved any time soon.

On Tuesday morning, though, at a meeting in Stoltenberg’s office, Medvedev and Stoltenberg came to terms on a compromise that divides their disputed territory in half, giving each country about 88,000 square kilometers of the continental shelf in the area.

Many political observers were surprised and delighted, with one telling Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the agreement is “absolutely fair” even though he hadn’t expected Norway would come out so well.

Cabinet Minister Trond Giske, in charge of business and trade issue in Norway, said it sets off an entirely new era of business opportunities in the Arctic. The area’s rich fishing grounds should no longer be disputed, and uncertainty around jurisdiction over oil and gas projects will be removed as well.

That could prompt new exploration activity, “in an environmentally friendly manner,” Giske hastened to add. “This opens up huge new possibilities,” Giske told reporters.

Norwegian and Russian officials also signed eight new agreements on other issues before Medvedev traveled on to Denmark, including one to agree working on a visa-free zone along the Russian-Norwegian border on land. All seemed genuinely pleased with the results of Medvedev’s brief but productive state visit, but the environmental lobby was concerned. It’s worried about the brighter prospects for oil and gas exploration, because the Arctic is so environmentally sensitive.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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