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Russia, U.S. tout cooperation ahead of Arctic Council meeting

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With a warming climate melting more Arctic ice cover and global industries eager to exploit the region for shipping, fishing, drilling and mining, the United States and Russia sounded a rare, cooperative note going into an Arctic meeting this week.

The conciliatory tone was encouraging to governments, local residents, investors and environmental groups worried about a lack of regulations and potential environmental damage as industries look northward to the world’s largest remaining oil, gas and mineral deposits.

“Our vision … is very much one of cooperation,” U.S. State Department Arctic Envoy Jim de Hart told Reuters in an interview ahead of the biennial meeting of the eight Arctic Council nations. “It’s about action on climate change. It’s about good science … and keeping the region peaceful.”

In Moscow, senior Arctic Council official Nikolai Korchunov also struck a conciliatory tone, telling a briefing last week that Moscow and Washington have “very constructive” dialogue at the Arctic Council.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s concern about fighting climate change, a U-Turn in Washington’s position, was especially welcome at a time when arctic temperatures are rising faster than the global average and summertime sea ice is increasingly sparse and thin.

Some worried, however, that deep U.S.-Russian disagreements over other, unrelated issues could hinder talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.

Since Biden was inaugurated in January, Washington and Moscow have clashed over charges of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election; challenges of Ukraine’s sovereignty; Moscow’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny; and U.S. support of democracy activists in Russia and Belarus.

Both governments are also wary of each other’s military activity in the Arctic, and Washington is watching China’s economic moves there.

Fighting climate change will be Washington’s priority, de Hart told Reuters. That is a sea change from former President Donald Trump, whose delegate to the 2019 Arctic Council meeting blocked a declaration saying climate change was a serious regional threat.

“There’s a very great understanding of the problems facing the Arctic region and the interest of our countries in developing collective approaches to managing the region’s development,” Korchunov said.

Russia is to take the Council’s rotating leadership from Iceland until 2023. Other nations on the Council are Canada, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, with indigenous populations also represented.

“We don’t have any friction,” Korchunov said. “Yes, there can be disagreement on some issues, but … they are generally tactical in nature.”

The U.S. vote in 2019 against the climate change declaration made it the first such measure to fail since the group was formed in 1996, and de Hart pledged there would not be a repeat this year.

“I am very confident that, at this ministerial, there will be agreement,” de Hart said. “What you will see is climate elevated as a priority for the Arctic Council and for its future work.”

WATCHING CHINA

As Washington advocates for sustainable development, it is keeping an eye on China’s long-term ambitions and billions of dollars of investment in the Arctic. China is not an Arctic Council member but it declared itself a “near-Arctic” nation in 2018 and said it wanted to “participate in the governance of the Arctic.”

“We want the Arctic to be open for business,” de Hart said. “By that I mean business and investment according to high standards – respects environmental protection, respects local communities.”

Chinese investors have bid unsuccessfully to open mines in Canada and Greenland, which the U.S. Geological Survey says has the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of rare earth minerals.

Another U.S. concern is the Russian military, de Hart said, while Korchunov said Moscow has its eyes on any NATO moves to expand in the region.

“We just have to have our eyes open and make sure that we’re examining those activities through a national security lens,” de Hart said. “Some of (Russia’s) military activities and the behavior of some of its forces are not transparent, provocative and sometimes unprofessional, and that’s a concern.”

“It would be important for us to have the constructive spirit of cooperation that is in the Arctic Council … in the military-political sphere,” Korchunov said.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed that council members have heads of their respected armed forces meet regularly to defuse any tensions that arise.

Lavrov accused Norway of trying to justify a greater NATO presence in the Arctic and dismissed the western alliance’s concerns over increasing Russian military activity in the Arctic.

“It’s long been well known to everyone that this is our territory, this is our land, we are responsible for ensuring that our Arctic coast is safe. And everything our country does there is absolutely legal and legitimate,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Katy Daigle and David Gregorio)

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Hundreds more unmarked graves found at erstwhile Saskatchewan residential school

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An indigenous group in Saskatchewan on Thursday said it had found the unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, just weeks after a similar, smaller discovery rocked the country.

The latest discovery, the biggest to date, is a grim reminder of the years of abuse and discrimination indigenous communities have suffered in Canada even as they continue to fight for justice and better living conditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the discovery at Marieval Indian Residential School about 87 miles (140 km) from the provincial capital Regina. He told indigenous people that “the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters, adding that oral stories mentioned adults being buried at the site.

Delorme later told Reuters some of the graves belong to non-indigenous people who may have belonged to the church. He said the First Nation hopes to find the gravestones that once marked these graves, after which they may involve police.

Delorme said the church that ran the school removed the headstones.

“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene,” he said.

The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools, mostly Catholic, run on behalf of the federal government.

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. “This is just the beginning.”

OLD WOUNDS

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report that found the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide, has said a cemetery was left on the Marieval site after the school building was demolished.

The local Catholic archdiocese gave Cowessess First Nation C$70,000 ($56,813) in 2019 to help restore the site and identify unmarked graves, said spokesperson Eric Gurash. He said the archdiocese gave Cowessess all its death records for the period Catholic parties were running the school.

In a letter to Delorme on Thursday, Archbishop Don Bolen reiterated an earlier apology for the “failures and sins of Church leaders and staff” and pledged to help identify the remains.

Heather Bear, who went to Marieval as a day student in the 1970s and is also vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, recalled a small cemetery at the school but not of the size revealed on Thursday.

“You just didn’t want to be walking around alone in (the school),” she recalled. There was a “sadness that moves. And I think every residential school has that sadness looming.”

The Cowessess First Nation began a ground-penetrating radar search on June 2, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia outraged the country. Radar at Marieval found 751 “hits” as of Wednesday with a 10% margin of error, meaning at least 600 graves on the site.

The Kamloops discovery reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said in early June that he was pained by the Kamloops revelation and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.

Thursday was a difficult day, Delorme told Reuters. But he wants his young children to know “we will get the reconciliation one day with action like today.”

($1 = 1.2321 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

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Teamsters votes to fund and support Amazon workers

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The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union in the United States and Canada, said on Thursday it has voted to formalize a resolution to support and fund employees of Amazon.com Inc in their unionization efforts.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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Citigroup names new sales head for Treasury and Trade Solutions unit

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Citigroup Inc has named Steve Elms as the new sales head for the bank’s Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) unit effective immediately, according to an internal memo shared by a company spokesperson.

Elms, who will oversee the management of the global sales teams, has been involved with the bank’s TTS division for over 10 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

TTS is a division of the bank’s Institutional Clients group. The segment offers cash management and trade services and finance to multinational corporations, financial institutions and public sector organizations around the world.

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru and David Henry in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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