Friday, January 18, 2008

Senate Panel Approves Law of the Sea Treaty

Oct. 31, 2007 – 1:29 p.m.

Senate Panel Approves Law of the Sea Treaty

By Colby Itkowitz, CQ Staff

A Senate panel voted Wednesday to ratify a 1982 U.N. treaty, giving the United States a say in international laws governing the use of the world’s oceans.

The Foreign Relations Committee voted 17-4 to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“Do we join a treaty that establishes a framework to advance the rule of law on the oceans?” Chairman Joseph R. Biden, Jr., D-Del., asked. “Or do we remain on the outside, to the detriment of our national interests?”

The Bush administration strongly supports Senate passage of the treaty. Biden said the president told him it was one of his foremost foreign policy priorities.

The treaty also has the backing of the U.S. military, intelligence agencies and business and environmental groups.

But a handful of conservative lawmakers maintain, as they have since 1982, that the treaty compromises U.S. sovereignty.

David Vitter, R-La., proposed, but then withdrew, a motion to hold the vote until at least one more hearing on the treaty was held. He said the committee has not heard from enough witnesses who oppose the treaty to “point out their concerns.”

Norm Coleman, who voted against the treaty, said he is concerned that it impedes national security.

“Are we in a war today? Does that have implication here?” Coleman, R-Minn., said. “Do others recognize it?”

He said he was troubled that the treaty would “allow international tribunals to impose judgements on actions taken by the U.S. Navy.”

But in a statement in May, President Bush said, “Joining will serve the national security interests of the United States, including the maritime mobility of our armed forces worldwide.”

The treaty establishes a legal framework for the use of the world’s oceans and its resources, and allows members to extend territorial jurisdiction 12 miles from their shores and control resources — including fish stocks or oil and gas — up to 200 miles offshore. The inclusion of Alaska’s coast and the U.S. islands in the Pacific Ocean would greatly increase U.S. jurisdiction over fishing waters and resources under the Arctic.

The treaty was first opened for signatures in 1982, but President Reagan did not support it. President Clinton negotiated changes to address many U.S. concerns about the pact in 1994, but was unable to convince senators to ratify it. [THESE CHANGES NEVER MATERIALIZED IN FACT]***

In 2004, the Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved the treaty, but Republicans, who then controlled the Senate, never brought it up on the floor.

Some Republicans, including John Cornyn, R-Texas, said they would lobby members to defeat the treaty when it reaches the floor.

Source: CQ Today
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