U.S. appoints coordinator for Arctic policy as mineral race heats up

FILE PHOTO: James DeHart, U.S. Department of State’s senior advisor for security negotiations and agreements bureau of political-military affairs, speaks after a meeting with South Korean counterpart on the Special Measures Agreement (SMA) at the public affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea November 19, 2019. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration appointed a coordinator for policy in the Arctic on Wednesday, as Washington prepares to compete with Russia and China on resource extraction in a region quickly melting due to climate change.

The State Department said Jim DeHart, a 28-year diplomat who most recently served as a senior adviser in South Korea, is now U.S. coordinator for the Arctic region.

Washington has not had a top policy maker for the Arctic since Robert Papp, a retired Coast Guard admiral, served as the first U.S. special representative from 2014 until early 2017.

U.S. interest in the Arctic has grown as climate change raises temperatures and causes sea ice to melt, opening the region to more shipping and exposing critical minerals, uranium and fossil fuels. The Arctic has warmed at a rate twice the global average over the last three decades.

U.S. officials said in April they were “in the process of adjusting our Arctic policy to today’s new strategic realities.” At the same time, the United States announced a $12.1 million economic aid package for Greenland, which has vast deposits of rare earth minerals that could be used in everything from military weapons to generation of renewable energy.

The Trump administration’s raised eyebrows with its approach to the Arctic. In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign an agreement on the Arctic due to discrepancies over language on climate change.

President Donald Trump has pushed for drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, considered one of the world’s last pristine places.

Russia has increased its military capabilities in the Arctic, while China calls itself a “near Arctic state” and has laid plans on shipping lanes.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Katy Daigle and Leslie Adler