Officials from Arctic nations meet amid drilling concerns

America's top diplomat is in Fairbanks, Alaska on Thursday to chair a meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council, a policy forum for countries with territory in the great white north.

That's raised concerns among the worldwide crowd gathered in Fairbanks this week.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary David Balton tried to square the circle this week in a call with reporters.

Donald Trump pledged to renegotiate the accord during last year's US election campaign, but has wavered on the issue since taking office.

Climate change was chief among the Arctic Council's priorities when the United States assumed the chairmanship of the organization two years ago under former President Barack Obama. But they're mostly similar.

The real strength of the USA chairmanship was to emphasize a unified Arctic at a time where tensions were so high.

The Arctic remains one of the regions where Moscow and Washington continue to cooperate despite rocky bilateral relations, Kommersant writes.

Were there any missed opportunities under the USA chairmanship?

The Arctic Economic Council is also set to bring together business representatives from the eight Arctic Council member nations and its six indigenous permanent participants for a May 9 meeting. Most of the public has probably forgotten about Obama's visit to Alaska (at the GLACIER conference in 2015) and Arctic issues have kind of fallen by the wayside. The repercussions include enormous ice loss from the ice sheet of Greenland, which is now raising sea levels by as much as a millimeter every year, major retreats in floating sea ice, and the thawing of frozen soil or permafrost, which can destabilize infrastructure but also releases more carbon to the atmosphere as it warms up, further amplifying global warming.

"We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view, and you should know that we are taking the time to understand your concerns", Tillerson told other representatives on the council. I think this could have been better communicated (under the US chairmanship) and perhaps painted a more human picture of the Arctic to Americans.

He has since launched a review of US participation in the deal, but the White House revealed this week that no decision will be made until Trump returns from Europe on May 27.

What will you be watching for on May 11th? Russian Federation will be represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who left for Washington on Tuesday to hold talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his way to Alaska.

And it also said U.S. President Donald Trump's "general criticism and disparaging attitude to climate change issues" could cripple U.S. work at the Arctic Council, which focuses largely on climate change and how to minimize its impact and foster adaption in the Arctic.

Finland has made it clear that the climate will remain at the heart of the body's deliberations when it takes over the gavel later Thursday - but Washington's position is in limbo.

But in Fairbanks, the newly minted American envoy may come under more pressure from traditional allies like Canada and Finland than from Moscow, this time over climate change.

Christina-Alexa Liakos of Greenpeace USA, said her group will watch the meeting with an eye toward US policy on broader environmental issues, such as the Paris Climate Agreement.

A second thing to watch for is how Finland really wants to raise its own profile as an Arctic country with Arctic expertise. "But my own feeling is that US interests in the Arctic are long-term and enduring, and they have a lot to do with the state of Alaska".

The above interview has been edited and condensed.

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