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Norway, Russia Strike Deal to Divide Arctic Undersea Territory

Russia and Norway have reached an agreement on a long-running border dispute, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday, in a deal that will provide a framework for how the two countries divvy up the vast energy reserves on the Arctic shelf.

"The decision [we have reached] provides that the disputed territory in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean are divided into two equivalent parts," he said Tuesday at a joint news conference with President Dmitry Medvedev. "The way in which the border line will be drawn satisfies both states."

The agreement will regulate both fishing and drilling on 173,000 square kilometers of the Arctic shelf, which will be divided into two approximately equal parts. Details of the agreement were not disclosed as documents are still being prepared for the final deal.

The scuffles over the countries' Arctic border area have been a sore point in relations for some time. The Norwegian coast guard has detained a number of Russian fishing vessels over the years for various violations. In 2006, Russia temporarily banned the imports of fish fr om four Norwegian enterprises in what was largely seen as a political move.

Rights to develop the Arctic's vast energy resources have been another sticking point, but in a sign that the two sides may be warming to a more cooperative approach, Medvedev on Monday invited Norway's Statoil to explore the giant Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Barents Sea.

On Tuesday, he suggested that the two countries set up joint enterprises to explore oil fields and gas depots that will lie on the border that is yet to be drawn.

"In order to explore these or other gas and oil depots, we will require joint participation," Medvedev said. "This is the practical implementation of the agreements [we've reached]."

The agreement is a sign that Russia has given up on its Soviet-era aspirations to dominate the entire Arctic shelf, said Alexander Pikayev, a political scientist at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

"The Soviet Union set the lim its of its economic zone on the shelf far beyond its borders, which contradicted international law," he said. "Now it looks like part of this previously desired territory was exchanged for easing Norway's fishing rules for Russian vessels and will bring joint oil and gas contracts to both countries."

Even recently, government officials have made no secret of their ambitions for the territory. In 2007, State Duma Deputy Artur Chilingarov led an expedition in a self-propelled deep-sea submersible and planted a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed near the North Pole. He later denied that the planting of the flag was an attempt to demonstrate Russia's rights to the region.

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