WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and military leaders implored conservative Republicans on Wednesday to approve a long-spurned high seas treaty, saying it would create jobs, open a new path to oil, gas and other resources and bolster national security.
Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a rare joint appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to make the case for the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States is the only major nation that has refused to sign the treaty, which was concluded in 1982 and been in force since 1994.
But the committee chairman announced at the start of the hearing that he would not push for a Senate vote before the November elections. Still, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., insisted that approval of the treaty is necessary because the United States "has lived by the rules, but we don't shape the rules."
Since the Reagan administration, the U.S. has abided by the rules of the treaty, which is endorsed by 161 countries and the European Union.
Clinton and the military leaders said it was now time for the U.S. to grab a seat at the table in international negotiations on navigational rights and seabed mining.
"One hundred and sixty nations have acceded to it, and we say, 'To hell with them, we're not going to participate in that,'" Panetta said. "Then 160 nations are going to determine what happens" and the U.S. is on the sidelines.
He said the United States repeatedly insists that Iran and North Korea follow international rules. Failing to approve the sea treaty, Panetta said, undermines U.S. authority.
Conservative and tea party Republicans say the treaty would undercut U.S. sovereignty, force a redistribution of wealth and stand in for the Kyoto Protocol on climate change that would allow foreign countries to regulate U.S. energy.
Clinton dismissed the opposition as misguided.
"I am well aware that this treaty does have determined opposition, limited but nevertheless quite vociferous," she said. "And it's unfortunate because its opposition based in ideology and mythology, not in facts, evidence or the consequences of our continuing failure to accede to the treaty."
She suggested that opponents who are wary of any U.N.-based treaty are expressing unfounded fears. "That means the black helicopters are on their way," Clinton said.
Her comments made several committee Republicans bristle.
"I am one of the people who has concerns with this treaty, and I assure you that my concerns are rooted in something more than mythology. ...They are rooted first and foremost in America's national sovereignty, and I think that is not something that is to be discounted here," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said.
The treaty establishes a system for resolving disputes in international waters and recognizes sovereign rights over a country's continental shelf out to 200 nautical miles and beyond if the country can provide evidence to substantiate its claims. Clinton said U.S. oil and natural gas companies now have the technology to explore the extended continental shelf, which could be more than 1 1/2 times the size of Texas and rich in resources.
Those companies are seeking the greatest legal certainty from the treaty before investing millions of dollars.
The pact gives Arctic countries 10 years after they ratify the treaty to prove their claims under the largely uncharted polar ice cap.
By failing to back the treaty, Kerry said the United States is losing ground to growing military power China as well as Russia, which is claiming oil and other resources in the Arctic.
The treaty has exposed the fault lines within the Republican Party, pitting tea partyers against the pro-business faction. The treaty has the strong backing of the oil, gas and mining industries, companies such as Lockheed Martin, all the living former presidents from both parties and former and current national security officials.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took out a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday calling for Senate ratification. But 26 of the Senate's 47 Republicans, led by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., have signed a letter pledging to oppose the treaty if it gets to the Senate for a vote.
A lone Republican voice in support of the treaty was Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, who said the question for the Senate was whether "to consign the United States to a position of self-imposed weakness in our ability to influence ocean affairs, despite the fact that no other nation has a greater interest in navigational freedoms ... or a more advanced technological capacity to exploit ocean resources."