State Department to appoint first Arctic ambassador-at-large

The U.S. State Department announced Friday that President Biden will appoint a designated Arctic ambassador, a new position for the nation and a sign, officials said, of the administration’s commitment to the region.

The U.S. is the only Arctic nation without such an ambassador, though the State Department does have an Arctic coordinator. It is time to elevate that position, the department said in a statement.

“To further American interests and cooperation with Allies and partners in the Arctic, and after extensive consultations with Members of Congress, local and federal government officials, and external stakeholders, the President plans to elevate the Arctic Coordinator position by appointing an Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate,” the statement said.

The ambassador “will advance U.S. policy in the Arctic, engage with counterparts in Arctic and non-Arctic nations as well as Indigenous groups, and work closely with domestic stakeholders, including state, local, and Tribal governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, other federal government agencies and Congress,” the statement said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who has pushed for such an appointment, applauded the decision.

“By establishing this role, America will solidify its dedication, commitment, and leadership to this strategically important region and have greater opportunities to spur the diplomacy necessary to preserve a peaceful, prosperous Arctic,” she said in a statement.

She said that the announcement, along with the recent opening of the Defense Department’s Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies in Anchorage, “sends a strong signal to our allies and adversaries that America is all-hands-on-deck in the Arctic. Make no mistake, because of Alaska, America is not only an Arctic nation, but an Arctic leader. I look forward to the announcing of a nominee and urge the State Department to quickly move forward with the next steps.”

The Obama administration, which oversaw the U.S. chairmanship of the eight-nation Arctic Council from 2015 to 2017, had a designated Arctic envoy at the State Department — retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Robert Papp. Though he served largely as an Arctic ambassador, Papp did not have that title but instead was the designated “special representative for the Arctic.” Ambassadors must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and Papp’s appointment did not go through that process. During those years, the Senate was Republican-controlled.

The Arctic position in the State Department was left vacant by the Trump administration until Jim DeHart, a career diplomat, was appointed as Arctic coordinator in 2020. DeHart left that position this summer for an academic post, and his duties were assumed by Derek Chollet, the State Department’s counselor.

On Twitter, Chollet said creation of the ambassador-at-large position was a “top priority” for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and he credited bipartisan support and highlighted Murkowski’s “exceptional leadership.”

Murkowski and Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, have urged for elevation of Arctic matters at the State Department. The two, founders and leaders of a Senate Arctic caucus, introduced the Arctic Diplomacy Act of 2021, which would authorize creation of an assistant secretary for Arctic affairs in the State Department. In February, they sent a letter to Blinken urging creation of the Arctic ambassador position.

The new Arctic ambassador position will take over the duties of the Arctic coordinator position, a State Department spokesperson said. The department hopes to name a nominee soon, the spokesperson said.

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations. She covers environmental issues, energy, climate change, natural resources, economic and business news, health, science and Arctic concerns — subjects with a lot of overlap. This article originally appeared online at Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.