Russia and Norway Tackle Barents Sea Border Feud

OSLO -- Russia and Norway began two-day talks Monday in the hope of making progress in a decades-old dispute over their maritime border in the Barents Sea -- a part of the Arctic that could hold large oil and gas reserves.

The Barents Sea is seen as a possible important new source of oil to supply Europe, but development has been hindered by the dispute.

"I am convinced that we will make progress in the negotiations," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said before the talks with his Norwegian counterpart, Jonas Gahr Stoere, BarentsObserver.com reported.

But Norway said it had seen no sign of progress. "Of course when ministers meet in that part of the world [the border dispute] is a natural part of the agenda," a Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said. "It is difficult to predict how the negotiations will proceed."

A year ago, Russia and Norway agreed to set the border for a small swathe of sea through one fjord, raising hopes of progress on the entire area, which is about half the size of Germany. But a senior official from Norway's Petroleum and Energy Ministry told an oil industry forum later in 2007 that an overall accord was "as near as ever."

Norway's StatoilHydro has the only offshore oil development in the Barents Sea. Russia's Barents Sea waters hold the undeveloped Shtokman gas field, one of the world's biggest, which StatoilHydro is to help Gazprom develop.

Stoere's talks with Lavrov will also deal with ways to ease cross-border travel for people on both sides of the frontier. "We approve 98 percent of the applications from the Russian side and this takes a lot of time," Stoere told the Norwegian news agency NTB. "What we are now looking at is that people living near the border can be furnished with a document that would make it easier to travel back and forth."

After visiting the Norwegian town of Kirkenes on Monday, the ministers will go to Murmansk, in northwest Russia, on Tuesday.