Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson during his first, and probably last, public appearance at the Arctic Council. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)
Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson during his first, and probably last, public appearance at the Arctic Council. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe – the USA just wants to go


Fairbanks, Alaska:
Rex Tillerson, the American Secretary of State, yesterday use five minutes in public to finish off the American chairmanship of the Arctic Council. There was not much to suggest it came with a heavy heart. Tillerson’s speech was as indifferent and cool as an icicle in the beard of a rugged Alaskan trapper.
 
Fairbanks, the Golden Heart City, received eight Arctic foreign ministers on Wednesday night, local time. It may be a long time until the next time.

Came, saw and went

One of them, Rex Tillerson, did not reveal a word of what the USA wants with the Arctic in the future when he opened the international ball.

We are not likely to learn more about it. All unofficial messages indicate that Tillerson intends to leave Fairbanks prior to the announced press conference following Wednesday’s ministerial meeting.

With a notoriously smiling Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, seated near the lectern, Tillerson took the rare occasion of thanking a large group of people who have worked with the Arctic Council during the American chairmanship.

It was not clear whether he thought they had done a good job, though hopefully those he referred to got the message.

The rest of us did not. A PA system that would not satisfy the requirements of even the most modest establishment also had to compete with the strong sound of guests allowed to enjoy free wine.
Sami breakthrough

Only one speaker managed to break through the increasing cacophony from the audience, who only minutes into the list of speakers during the reception at the Morris Thompson Center were more concerned with themselves and their immediate neighbors. And with free wine and finger food.

Gunn-Britt Retter from the Sami Council simply asked the audience, politely, to shut up. Unlike Tillerson, she had something on her heart that she wanted to convey.

– We have seen an increased interest in the Arctic and the Arctic Council; however, we are also facing some challenges. One is the size of the meetings and through that the ability to make the right decisions. The second is keeping the transparent dialogues. Only the future will show how we manage these challenges, Gunn-Britt Retter said.

By then, Rex Tillerson had left the meeting a long time ago, and brought with him any openness into a closed room somewhere else in the city.


Lavrov will a well-founded smile

Only Sergei Lavrov was smiling continuously.

He had good reason to do so. The day before he had met both President Donald Trump and Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson in Washington. Both Americans refused to meet the press afterwards, leaving Lavrov to singlehandedly summarize the meeting before a news-hungry press corps.
Gunn-Britt Retter of the Sami Council pointed to several challenges facing the Arctic Council. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Gunn-Britt Retter of the Sami Council pointed to several challenges facing the Arctic Council. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ever-smiling when meeting his seven Arctic colleagues. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ever-smiling when meeting his seven Arctic colleagues. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

And while the Americans refused to hand out pictures from the meetings with the Russian Foreign Minister, the Russian MFA willingly distributed pictures of an ever-smiling Lavrov meeting with a somewhat tense Trump.

Today, Thursday, the eight member states of the Arctic Council present a joint resolution. The formulations therein have been elaborated on and tweaked to the very last minute. Because the resolution is not meaningless.

The Arctic Council today represents the only international body in which the great powers of the East and the West still meet for dialogue and regular meetings.


Insecure future

Prior to the Fairbanks meeting, I took a northern turn in Alaska, this mighty state that alone makes the USA an Arctic nation. One out of many observations in the wilderness, which starts just outside the city limits, is the giant heaps of rundown cars outside many of the few houses that lie somewhat secluded from the road.

– I myself have 11 trucks, said a random American I met outside the congress hall.

– No, by the way, I have 13 he conceded when I asked him why.

– I bought a couple more last week. I mean to sell the cars to make money.

The properties in Northern Alaska suggest that many have the same plans.

– But do you really sell any cars?

– Uh, well, is the reluctant response I get. – I work so hard to make enough money to buy new cars that I don’t find time to repair and sell them.


On my way back to the hotel, I realize that there is something presidential over that reasoning.
Donald Trump is at present so busy creating new international conflicts that he cannot find time to solve any of the old ones.

Today we might find out whether the USA still has the will and desire to leave its mark on the Arctic cooperation in the future, a cooperation that insists on defying all international conflicts.
There is something presidential about the car wrecks that decorate properties in rural Alaska. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

There is something presidential about the car wrecks that decorate properties in rural Alaska. (Photo: Arne O. Holm) Det er noe presidentaktig over bilvrakene som pynter opp eiendommer nord i Alaska. (Foto: Arne O. Holm).

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