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Ocean treaty gains hearing in Senate

Thirty years after it was signed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the United Nations treaty that governs the world’s oceans is undergoing one of its periodic resurrections in Congress.

Last week a Senate committee summoned three top national security officials to make yet another plea for the agreement, according to a New York Times article on Thursday.

Despite narrow opposition and support from Republican and Democratic presidents, the Senate has never ratified the treaty. Other supporters include the Pentagon, environmental advocates and the oil and gas industry.

Virtually anyone who deals “with oceans on a daily basis” supports the treaty, the newspaper reported Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., as saying. But a handful of Republicans who view the treaty as an infringement on American sovereignty oppose it.

The “Law of the Sea” treaty has been stalled so frequently on Capitol Hill that its opponents have taken to calling it “LOST.”

The treaty, ratified by 162 states and the European Union, codifies rules for the use of the oceans and maritime resources. Among its provisions, it allows countries to exploit the continental shelf, in some cases extending more than 200 miles from shore.

By refusing to ratify the treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, the United States could fail to exploit untapped oil and gas deposits buried beneath the offshore seabed. It could lose out to Russia, Norway and other countries in staking claims to the Arctic Ocean, where melting ice is opening up untold mineral riches. And it could lose credibility in reining in China’s maritime ambitions in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey zeroed in on the national security benefits, arguing that by instituting rules and a mechanism for resolving disputes the treaty reduces the threat of conflict in hot spots such as the South China Sea and the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has threatened to shut down in retaliation for oil sanctions.

Click here for the full report.

Click here for a New York Times editorial on the treaty.

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