Lavrov Sees Norway in Close Partnership

For MTNorwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere
HARSTAD, Norway -- Russia predicted closer cooperation with neighboring Norway on developing oil and gas resources in the Arctic on Thursday and played down disputes over fisheries and a maritime boundary.

Russia and Norway, the world's No. 2 and No. 3 oil exporters, respectively, behind Saudi Arabia, are both looking north for new finds. By some U.S. estimates, the Arctic could hold a quarter of the world's undiscovered petroleum reserves.

"I am convinced that there will be a closer cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Norwegian counterpart, Jonas Gahr Stoere, in Harstad, on the Arctic Circle.

Lavrov said cooperation could include both production of oil and gas and specialized equipment for work in the Barents Sea region, where costs are high because of factors including freezing cold, winter darkness and risks of icebergs.

He noted that Norwegian energy groups Statoil and Norsk Hydro were on a shortlist of five foreign companies, along with Chevron, Conoco-Phillips and Total, to help Russia's Gazprom develop the vast Shtokman natural gas field in the Arctic.

Lavrov and Stoere said they would work to avert new disputes over fish stocks in the north Atlantic and to resolve a three-decade dispute over fixing a maritime boundary north of their coasts.

Stoere said the bilateral relationship was going through the most rapid and dynamic development, referring to issues including energy, trade and culture.

The two met on the fringes of talks by ministers from the Nordic nations and Russia aimed at reviving cultural and trade ties that stretch back to Viking times and were interrupted for decades by the Cold War.

Nordic nations and Russia see their talks in Harstad as a way of reviving once thriving relations.

Before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, six European nations had consulates in the village of Hammerfest,on the Arctic tip of Norway, to help promote trade with Russia in timber, minerals and fish.

Stoere and Lavrov said they had averted a diplomatic crisis last month when a Russian trawler escaped from the Norwegian coast guard with two Norwegian inspectors held aboard after they tried to arrest the vessel.

The inspectors, who accused the trawler of illegal fishing in the North Atlantic, were freed after they reached Russian waters.

The trawler captain denied the charges.

The two also said they would try to break deadlock in a long-running dispute about where to draw the maritime boundary north of their common land border.

The area could contain oil and gas reserves.

But they said they had no plans to fix a deadline for talks.

"You sound like a person from the old Communist days -- five-year plans to be implemented in a half-year," Lavrov told a Norwegian reporter who asked whether Moscow might set a six-month deadline before seeking international arbitration.