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Wrangled island

September 11, 2012
Times Leader

Dear Editor,

Is President Obama giving away several Alaskan islands to Russia?

No. the U.S. has never claimed ownership of the islands identified in viral emails and websites. They lie far closer to the coast of Siberia than to Alaska. All lie on the Russian side of the U.S. - Russia maritime boundary set by a treaty that the U.S. Senate ratified overwhelmingly more than two decades ago, after being signed by President George H.W. Bush, and with the support of both of Alaska's senators.

The uninhibited Wrangel island was sighted by U.S. vessels in 1867 and 1881, but not settled. A Canadian explorer named Vihjalmur Stefansson and survivors of a disastrous expedition reached the island in 1914. But when Stefansson later tried to claim Wrangel for Canada without authorization he caused an international incident, infuriating the Canadian government. Then in 1926 the Soviet Union staked a claim to the island and settled a few native families there.

Wrangel and four other uninhibited islands were surveyed in 1881 by a U.S. Navy commander, and for a time were listed in the "District of Alaska" by the U.S. Geological Survey. That's about the extent of justification for calling them "Alaskan." Neither the U.S., Britain nor Canada has disputed the Soviet and now Russian) claim to Wrangel. The U.S. State Department says Wrangel and the others weren't included in the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867, and "they have never been claimed by the United States."

The Senate ratified a treaty establishing the maritime boundary between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (now Russia) on Sept. 16, 1991. The vote was a lopsided 86 to 6. Alaska's senators, the late Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski, both Republicans voted in favor of ratification.

The whole business was raised anew on Feb. 16, by Joe Miller, the Tea Party favorite, who defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the 2010 Republican Senate primary only to see Lisa Murkowski go on to win the general election handily as a write-in candidate. It was a shining victory for the people of Alaska.

World Net Daily itself published a July 29, 2008, article critical of the State Department for the "island giveaway." Of course, George W. Bush - not Obama - was president at the time. (The Bush administration's official Arctic Region Policy stated that the U.S. would abide by the 1990 maritime agreement and would continue to urge the Russian Federation to ratify it.)

It is simply false to claim that Obama is "giving away" island to which no U.S. president has asserted a claim for more than 85 years, if ever. This is the typical Republican and Tea party tactic blame Obama for everything. We should elect those honorable people to guide our country.

Alfred Tellitocci

Shadyside

 
 

 

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