Murkowski Turns Sec. Kerry’s Gaze North

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photo: Department of State

Sec. of State John Kerry’s agenda these days is dominated by the world’s hot spots: Iran, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski met with him this week to move his focus to a cold spot: the Arctic.

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The senator says Kerry isn’t entirely engaged in the far North, which Murkowski says is understandable.

“The secretary is very focused on issues as they relate to climate, so that aspect of the Arctic, I think it’s fair to say, he is engaged, ” she said after the meeting. “I don’t think that he has the bigger Arctic picture, the other Arctic pictures.”

Murkowski says she had about 40 minutes to draw his attention to the Arctic as a place where people live and need to make a living. She says she raised several issues related to commercial activity.

“One was the national security imperative for this country to make sure the trans-Alaska oil pipeline doesn’t get shut down because we lose throughput,” she said.

She also brought up transboundary mine concerns — the fear that Southeast Alaska salmon habitat could be damaged by large mines under development upriver in British Columbia. Murkowski says she and the rest of the Alaska delegation wrote Kerry’s department about it last year.

“And quite honestly, we’ve gotten nothing from the state department on this,” she said.

Kerry told her that, as a Massachusettsan, he was familiar with environmental problems drifting across the Canadian border. Murkowski says it seemed to register.

“He said, ‘I know full well what we’re talking about here and what the concerns would be from the residents of Alaska,’ so he said he would make sure that there was a new eye placed to it,” Murkowski recounted.

An official State Department photo of the meeting shows Robert Papp, the Department’s Arctic representative, attended, as did Secretary Kerry’s yellow lab, identified in the caption as “Ben the Diplomutt.”