Obama presses Congress to ratify UN treaty on sea

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Barack Obama
Washington, May 24: Thirty years after it was signed, President Barack Obama was leading moves in the US to resurrect ratification of the UN treaty on law of the sea, saying the instrument is vital to protect American economic and military interests vis-a-vis emerging powers like India and China. Obama deputed two of his top Cabinet members and senior most commander to Capitol Hill to convince lawmakers to ratify the treaty.

The US Senate did not ratify the treaty despite support from Presidents, both Republican and Democrat, for the country's powerful oil and gas lobby is against the law, which allows countries to exploit the continental shelf, in some cases extending more than 200 miles from the shore.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey led the pro-treaty campaign to convince the Congress that its ratification was pivotal for the US in dealing with disputes like the one raging at the South China Sea.

Dempsey, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told a Congressional hearing that by refusing to ratify the treaty, the US could fail to exploit untapped oil and gas resources buried beneath the off-shore sea bed. Clinton argued that Washington would lose out to Russia, Norway and other countries in staking claims to the Arctic Sea, where melting of ice is opening up untold mineral riches. She also said that failure on the bill would amount to US losing credibility in reining in China's maritime ambitions in South China Sea.

"As the Arctic warms and frees up shipping routes, it is more important that we put our navigational rights on a treaty footing and have a larger voice in the interpretation and development of the rules. Because it won't just be the five Arctic nations. You will see China, India, Brazil, you name it, all vying for navigational rights and routes through the Arctic," Clinton said.

Panetta and Dempsey told the lawmakers that the treaty would reduce the threat of conflict in hotspots like South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to shut down in retaliation to oil sanctions.

The UN Law of the Sea treaty, which was signed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 1982, has already been ratified by 162 nations and the European Union and codifies the rules for the use of oceans and maritime resources. "If we were here 20 years ago, we would have all been predicting that the growing world population and the rise of regional powers like China and India would place extraordinarily challenging demands for resources and that could become destabilising. And here we are 20 years later, and it's playing out," Gen Dempsey said.

"So the reason I'm supportive of the Convention on Law of the Sea is that it provides clarity on the definition of maritime zones and navigational rights. And from that clarity comes stability. As we now begin to have a relook on our security interests into the Pacific, this becomes very important," Dempsey said. He added that rise of new nations competing for resources has put the USA in a position where unless it ratifies the convention, it can become unstable.

PTI

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