U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton took issue with Canada for not inviting all those with legitimate interests in the Arctic to what was supposed to be a gathering to enhance cooperation in the region.
Clinton said she had been contacted by representatives of indigenous groups who were disappointed they were not invited, according to prepared remarks for Monday's Arctic Coastal meeting. She also said that Sweden, Finland and Iceland — the three Arctic States not represented — had similar concerns.
"Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region. And I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions," Clinton said.
In what appeared to be a further expression of her displeasure, Clinton did not attend what was planned as a group news conference following the meeting.
Instead, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon ended up doing the news conference by himself.
Although the goal of the gathering was to improve Arctic cooperation, just the U.S., Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway were invited.
Sweden, Finland, Iceland and indigenous groups are a part of the broader Arctic Council group that meets regularly, but were not invited to the Canadian forum.
Clinton said she wanted to affirm her commitment to the Arctic Council, which she said seeks an "architecture for international cooperation that is inclusive and transparent."
Cannon said he thought all the participants in the meeting made a clear distinction about the role of the Arctic Council and the responsibilities of Arctic coastal states.
He said the meeting was not meant to replace or undermine the Arctic Council.
"As a matter of fact, I believe the deliberations today are very helpful to the Arctic Council and member states," Cannon said.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere on Monday urged countries to lower the tension and rhetoric around the Arctic in an in effort to promote greater cooperation.
Stoere, too, said it was unfortunate that some countries were excluded.
"It's not a good thing that the three who are not here are unhappy about it," Stoere said.
The Arctic — believed to be rich in minerals and petroleum — already has neighboring countries vying for control.
Russia, Canada, the U.S., and Denmark all have claims before a U.N. commission to extend their undersea boundaries into ice-blocked areas, and Moscow dramatically staked its claim to the region by planting a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole in 2007.
Climate change is altering the Arctic geography by melting ice and creating open waterways, and with them new access to a bonanza of minerals, petroleum and polar shipping routes.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made the Arctic a priority since taking office in 2006, pledging to increase Canada's military presence in the Northwest Passage in case enough ice melts to make it a regular Atlantic-Pacific shipping lane. Canada says it owns the passage. The U.S. and others say it's international territory.
The Arctic meeting took place ahead of a summit of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations. The G-8 groups France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia and the United States.
Last month Canada dragged G-7 finance ministers and central bankers (the G-8 except for Russia) to the Arctic for a G-7 meeting that was seen as a show of Arctic sovereignty by Canada.