United States Secretary of States Antony Blinken confirmed yesterday that he would represent the US at next month’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council. Previously, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov had confirmed that he would also be attending, leading the Russian delegation as Russia will be taking over the Council’s chairmanship. Lavrov and Blinken’s meeting in Reykjavík would be their first.
Iceland’s 2019-2021 chairmanship of the Arctic Council is officially ending at the Council’s ministerial meeting in Reykjavík May 19-20. All participating countries of the Arctic Council and leaders of indigenous councils were invited to the meeting but requested to keep their delegations small for infection prevention purposes.
Foreign officials arriving for the meeting will follow regulations for a working quarantine, an option available to “ensure continued operation or to do work that can’t be postponed,” and subject to Chief Epidemiologist approval. Lavrov and Blinken will be in the same quarantine, meaning they could meet while they were here.
During Iceland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the theme was sustainable development and the four priorities were The Arctic Marine Environment, Climate and Green Energy Solutions, People and Communities of the Arctic, and a Stronger Arctic Council. In a speech yesterday, Secretary Blinken’s topic was America’s global climate leadership and how American foreign policy would be addressing the climate crisis. He stated: “We will convey a strong message to the meeting of the G7 next month, whose members produce a quarter of the world’s emissions. And I’ll also represent the United States at next month’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council, where I’ll reaffirm America’s commitment to meeting our climate goals and encourage other Arctic nations to do the same.”
He also mentioned the possibility that a rapidly heating Arctic could be a source of international conflict. Blinken stated: “In February, a Russian gas tanker sailed through the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route for the first time ever. Until recently, that route was only passable a few weeks each year. But with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the global average, that period is getting much longer. Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces. It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones, including one just 300 miles from Alaska. China is increasing its presence in the Arctic, too.”