WASHINGTON — A retired Coast Guard admiral was named Wednesday as the first U.S. special representative for Arctic issues, overseeing American policy in the icy region that is becoming a global focus for economic opportunities and security concerns.
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry said retired Adm. Robert J. Papp has broad foreign policy experience and a "passion" for the Arctic that makes him the ideal diplomat to advance U.S. interests in the region.
"I could not be happier that he agreed to postpone his well-deserved retirement and join our effort in a cause about which he is both passionate and wise," Kerry said of Papp, who stepped down as Coast Guard commandant just two months ago.
The U.S. next year will chair the Arctic Council, which is made up of eight nations that reach into the Arctic Circle and aims to protect the thawing region as its seas open to commercial shipping traffic. The U.S. touches the Arctic Circle in Alaska, and that state's two U.S. senators have long pressed the Obama administration to name a permanent envoy to the region.
Other council members are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland ,Norway, Russia and Sweden
The Arctic is growing hotter faster than any part of the globe. Global warming has melted sea ice to levels that have given rise to what experts describe as a kind of gold rush scramble to the Arctic.
U.S. officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits. Until recently, however, the resources that could reap hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues were frozen over and unreachable.
Kerry also named Alaska's former lieutenant governor, Fran Ulmer, as a special adviser on Arctic science and policy. Ulmer has chaired the U.S. Arctic Research Commission during the Obama administration.