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Harper's hard line on Arctic softens among U.S. envoys: leaked cables

Prime Minister Stephen Harper arrives at Rideau Hall to meet with the Governor-General on May 4, 2011.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper woos voters with sabre-rattling over the North but privately takes a more pragmatic tone with U.S. diplomats, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

The U.S. State Department documents released by WikiLeaks reveal how Washington interprets Canadian claims as melting Arctic sea ice prompts a scramble for resources among countries.

"The persistent high public profile which this [Conservative]government has accorded 'Northern Issues' and the Arctic is, however, unprecedented and reflects the PM's view that 'the North has never been more important to the our country' - although one could perhaps paraphrase to state 'the North has never been more important to our Party,' a U.S. diplomat wrote in a 2010 cable.

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The revelations comes as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton attends an Arctic Council meeting in Greenland on Thursday, with representatives from Canada, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Russia.

Stakeholder countries differ on key Arctic policies - including the drawing of maritime boundaries, claims to sea-bottom resources, and Canada's stance that it alone controls the Northwest Passage.

The January, 2010, cable on "Canada's Conservative Government and it's Arctic Focus" was signed by U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson and first posted by APTN National News this week. "While Arctic sovereignty is tried and tested as an election issue, the promises are seldom implemented," the cable says.

The cable adds that "the PM's public stance on the Arctic may not reflect his private, perhaps more pragmatic priorities" - given that the issue did not come up during several hours of conversation between Mr. Harper and Mr. Jacobson.

Canada "likely needs to leverage the stature, policies and resources of the United States, the one Arctic neighbor whose interests are most closely aligned with Canada's," the document says.

Other State Department cables from Ottawa have surfaced on WikiLeaks. They reveal that U.S. diplomats:

» Believe that Canadian military resources "will be redirected, defending 'sovereignty' in the Arctic … at the expense of future post-Afghanistan expeditionary missions."

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» Noted that Mr. Harper has said that that there is "no likelihood of Arctic states going to war," and feels that any NATO presence in the region would be misguided, given it would "backfire by exacerbating tensions," primarily with Russia.

» Upheld that a Canadian government plan to acquire Arctic Offshore patrol ships have been "driven by political, rather than military imperatives, since the Navy did not request these patrol ships."

» Urged Washington to delay the announcement of its own Arctic policies in the fall of 2008, so as not to interfere with an ongoing Canadian election campaign, given that the policies had "the potential to insert the United States as an issue in the campaign and negatively impact U.S.-Canadian relations."

» Took note of Canada's efforts to map the undersea continental shelf, feeling the exercise "may complicate ongoing disputes" involving U.S claims to certain territories.

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About the Author
National security reporter

Focusing on Canadian matters during the past decade, Colin Freeze has reported extensively on the interplay between government, police, spy services, and the judiciary. Colin has twice been to Afghanistan to be embedded with the Canadian military. More

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