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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

State Department plans diplomatic position to highlight importance of Arctic

JUNEAU, Alaska - The U.S. State Department plans to create an Arctic ambassador position to highlight the growing importance of that region.

In a letter to U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, Secretary of State John Kerry said he planned to name a "high-level individual of substantial stature and expertise" to serve as Special Representative for the Arctic Region.

"For a long time now, I've shared the view that the Arctic region really is the last global frontier, and the United States needs to elevate our attention and effort to keep up with the opportunities and consequences presented by the Arctic's rapid transformation," Kerry wrote in the letter, released by Begich's office Friday. "Properly managed, this region provides an opportunity for creative diplomatic leadership — but truly establishing and capitalizing on this leadership role will require making the Arctic region a higher U.S. priority; greater attention paid by senior policy makers; and, in keeping with President Obama's call for 'national unity of effort' on the Arctic, co-ordination of operational departments."

With the U.S. set to take over the rotating chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council in 2015, Kerry said he believed it was vital to elevate Arctic issues and interests within the State Department.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf on Friday said she had no personnel announcements to make, but might soon.

Alaska's U.S. senators — the Democrat Begich and Republican Lisa Murkowski — have been pressing for an ambassador or envoy to the Arctic.

Murkowski has been critical of where the U.S. stands, compared with other nations staking their claims to the region, saying in the past that the country is behind in its vision and thinking.

She sent a letter to the president earlier this week, expressing disappointment with the White House's plan for the Arctic, saying it did nothing "to advance our already lagging role in the region."

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National Security Writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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