April 22, 2010 / 2:07 PM / 7 years ago

INTERVIEW-Norway moving closer to Russia border deal

* Disputed marine border zone may be rich with gas and oil

* No breakthrough seen during Medvedev’s visit to Norway

* Barents Sea zone part of wider debate on Arctic claims



By Wojciech Moskwa

OSLO, April 22 (Reuters) - Norway and Russia are making progress in talks to end decades of dispute over their maritime border in the Barents Sea, a part of the Arctic rich with oil and gas, Norway’s foreign minister told Reuters on Thursday.

But Jonas Gahr Stoere played down prospects of a deal during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Oslo next week. Medvedev will also visit Denmark, an Arctic power through its Greenland territories, as global warming makes the icy region more accessible and triggers new territorial claims.

"Since 2005, we have been in a constructive dialogue on this (Barents Sea border) issue," said Stoere, highlighting a 2007 deal over delineation of a fjord inlet at the southern tip of the disputed zone, which is half the size of Germany.

"Our negotiators have been narrowing gaps. Each day, we get one day closer...(but) this is a long story," he said when asked if a breakthrough was imminent.

Stoere rejected views that Norway, whose oil and gas resources are much smaller than those of Russia, would be increasingly pressured over time to settle for any border pact that would unlock at least part of the Arctic resources.

"Norway will never negotiate this type of deal out of time pressure. We have always been of the view that the delimitation line will unleash a potential for cooperation," Stoere said.

He said proposals from Russia for joint exploration in the disputed area before a deal had been reached were "politely rejected" by Oslo, which wants "the predictability of a border."

The disputed zone is sandwiched between the Shtokman gas discovery on the Russian side -- a huge reservoir which holds enough gas to meet global demand for a year -- and two promising oil and gas fields on the Norwegian side. Norway’s champion Statoil (STL.OL) is helping develop the giant Shtokman project.

"There is no one single project that will determine whether we succeed in the far north," said Stoere. "But if Shtokman gets off the ground, it will stimulate a lot of activity."



ARCTIC RACE?

Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States have Arctic borders and are working to stake out territorial claims over what geologists say could be a massive resource reserve.

In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole, stoking concern of a new race for claims on undersea shelf limits which give states the right to exploit resources on and beneath the seabed, such as oil, gas and fish.

Stoere believes that some Arctic states have "over-interpreted" the symbolic flag planting, which he said "did not create law or initiate a process of recognition."

The North Pole area in the Arctic Ocean is claimed by both Russia and Denmark, and is likely to be on the agenda during Medvedev’s visit to Copenhagen. Norway’s own new Arctic claims stop in deep water about 550 kms (342 miles) from the Pole.

Stoere said that Norwegian-Russian cooperation on Arctic issues had "developed enormously" in past years.

Illegal fishing in the Barents amounted to every fourth fish caught in 1990, and is now "almost zero", he said. Joint initiatives on search and rescue, surveillance and environmental standards have also borne fruit, as has a Nordic-wide effort to safely deal with Soviet nuclear waste in the Murmansk peninsula.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)



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