Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am privileged to represent the United States at this ministerial meeting. Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, who attended the last two, sends his regards to all here.
I want to extend my thanks and praise to the government of Finland for hosting this event and for its chairmanship. Our two countries enjoy a warm and genial relationship, so it is always a pleasure to be here. I am particularly pleased to be in the city and province of Oulo and appreciate the hospitality shown to all of us. Yesterday we had a chance to visit Oulo's technology center, which is an impressive example of Finland's leadership in the application and advancement of science.
The United States' active participation here well illustrates the commitment we have made to this part of the world.
We -- all of us here -- have set a rather lofty goal for ourselves: to build a vigorous network of cooperation in northern Europe that helps secure stability and prosperity for all in the region. This is the vision that underlies our Northern Europe Initiative; achieving it is one of President Clinton's highest priorities in Europe.
Our collective success -- the way our vision becomes a reality -- depends on flexible and responsive regional organizations like this one. This is a unique forum that brings together national governments, regional institutions and NGOs to solve problems that cross national borders.
One aspect of this forum to which we have devoted considerable energy is the complex challenge of radioactive waste management in northwest Russia. We have made a good start in developing a number of important projects in this field -- the 40-tonne cask for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel from dismantled ballistic missile submarines, the upgrade and expansion of the liquid waste treatment facility in Murmansk, the prototype 80-tonne Murmansk cask for interim storage of civilian spent fuel, and others. Once completed and operational, the products of these programs will have a significant and positive impact on the environmental safety of the region.
Of course we are all aware that there is much more to be done to effectively resolve these problems, but we face a serious obstacle. Last year at the Barents Council we set ourselves a goal, the goal of concluding a multilateral framework agreement to cover nuclear waste assistance to Russia. Like you, the U.S. is disappointed that we have not been able to achieve that goal.
The U.S. hopes that with a renewed effort, all parties to the Multilateral Nuclear Environmental Program for Russia (MNEPR) agreement can reach a successful conclusion to these negotiations as quickly as possible this year. Many of the current assistance projects will have to be suspended if we fail to achieve agreement, and we will be stymied from considering new assistance programs. We all want to avoid this outcome.
Let me be quite clear: The U.S. remains totally committed to this effort. We are prepared to immediately contribute an additional $250,000 to the Murmansk 80-tonne cask project if we can overcome the remaining legal obstacles in the MNEPR negotiations. The MNEPR agreement is the essential first step to free up the support of the international community for additional assistance programs to further improve nuclear waste management in Russia.
I note the remark of the distinguished representative of the Russian Federation that due account must be taken of relevant Russian national legislation. This is of course the case. But I want to stress that if we are going to successfully frame the MNEPR agreement we need, then we must above all find a regime that meets multinational legal norms for protection.
If I may, let me turn now to the Arctic Council, which the U.S. presently chairs, and bring you up to date on what's been happening there.
The Arctic Council, you might say, is a new and different animal, one that illustrates the evolving nature of international relations. It includes not just diplomats, but representatives of Arctic indigenous communities, NGOs, scientists, technical experts, and others. It is remarkably all-inclusive.
The Council also reflects the new face of foreign policy in that it is a science-based organization. Science today plays a much larger role in the making of foreign policy than it did before. We diplomats today have to deal with intrinsically scientific issues that simply weren't in our portfolios 10 years ago -- issues such as climate change, biotechnology, ozone depletion, infectious diseases, and the like.
What we need to do is integrate the Arctic Council's work with that of this body, the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the European Union's Northern Dimension.
That, I hope, will be a prime topic of discussion when the Council meets this October in Barrow, Alaska -- the northernmost community in all of North America. Barrow is a village of some 4,500, mostly Inupiat, situated on Alaska's oil-producing North Slope.
On behalf of the U.S. Government, I invite all of you to come to Barrow for that Ministerial, where we look forward to Finland taking over the chairmanship of the Council. It is clear to me that Finland will manage this task with great skill and imagination, just as it managed this Council chairmanship and its recent EU Presidency.
What will we do at Barrow? At Barrow, we will review the work of the Arctic Council since the last Ministerial and approve some new initiatives brought to us by the Senior Arctic Officials.
The Environmental Working Groups will report on the substantial progress they have made, including oil and gas exploration guidelines, a circumpolar map of environmentally sensitive coastal areas, and a partnership conference to address land-based sources of marine pollution.
We'll hear progress reports from the new Sustainable Development Working Group on telemedicine. Arctic children and youth, and the other projects endorsed at Iqaluit, will also be considered at Barrow.
We'll be asked to approve new projects to assess the impact of climate change in the Arctic, to prevent and reduce pollution -- including a pilot program to identify and eliminate PCB's in the Arctic environment -- and to monitor infectious diseases.
The Senior Arctic Officials will have prepared a catalogue of Arctic Council initiatives to be shared with the Barents and the Nordic Councils. The goal is to identify opportunities for collaboration and at the same time avoid wasteful duplication of effort among the several organizations concerned with the Arctic.
The U.S. will hand over not only the traditional gavel, but also an Arctic Council website and a compact disc containing the record of the U.S. Chairmanship. I expect to hand over the old and new symbols of leadership to my Finnish counterpart in Barrow this October.
The Barents Council and the Arctic Council are not the only institutions we work with in this region.
The U.S. enjoys close cooperation with the Council of Baltic Sea States in a number of important areas, particularly law enforcement.
The U.S. has worked very closely with the Nordic Council of Ministers on several fronts, including the fight against tuberculosis in northwest Russia. Last October's Reykjavik conference on Women in Democracy in northern Europe was co-sponsored by the U.S. and the Nordic Council of Ministers, and we are very pleased at how our missions in the region are working with their Nordic counterparts to develop and implement projects arising from that conference.
I would especially highlight the broad coincidence of aims and objectives between our Northern Europe Initiative and the European Union's Northern Dimension.
All of these institutions and programs have in common the vision of a region bound together by common goals and characterized by a network of cooperation. The Northern Europe of today represents an altogether welcome paradigm shift -- away from competition and confrontation, and toward integration and cooperation. As such it is a key part of our common effort to build an entirely new Europe.
Thank you all very much.
[end of document]