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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release June 12, 1998


To maintain America's leadership in international ocean affairs, the President is calling on the U.S. Senate to recognize the overwhelming support expressed at the National Ocean Conference for the Law of the Sea Convention, and to clear the way for the United States to join the Convention.

The Law of the Sea Convention provides the international legal framework that supports activities at sea, including fishing, international trade, military operations and environmental protection. With 125 member nations, including virtually all of the industrialized countries, the Convention is the central force in international ocean policy.

The United States, however, risks losing its leadership role if it does not join the Convention. For instance, the United States will lose its provisional membership in the International Seabed Authority, which will establish international rules for potential sea-bed mining, if it does not join the Convention by November. If the United States does not join, it also will not be represented on the Continental Shelf Commission and the Law of the Sea Tribunal. All of these bodies will make important decisions affecting U.S. interests.

The United States launched the Convention negotiations in 1972 and, by 1982, achieved most of its fundamental objectives. Concerns over deep seabed mining remained, however, and President Reagan declined to sign the Convention. Most of the industrialized world followed. However, President Reagan committed the United States to honor all of the Convention's other provisions while attempting to reform the deep seabed mining provisions. Negotiations led by the United States resulted in the 1994 Deep Sea-Bed Mining Agreement that resolved all outstanding issues. The United States signed the agreement, and again the rest of the industrialized world followed.

The Convention balances economic, strategic and environmental concerns. Joining it will:

      Preserve freedom of navigation and overflight through, for 
     instance, international straits like Hormuz and Malacca and sea 
     lanes in the strategically located archipelagoes of Indonesia and 
     the Philippines.

      Support U.S. maritime drug interdiction activities.

      Secure open and efficient trade routes and prevent unwarranted
     restrictions by coastal nations.

      Enhance fisheries management, protection of whales and other 
     marine mammals, and global ocean protection, especially the 
     control of land-based sources of pollution.

The National Ocean Conference is the first of its kind because it involves all sectors of the U.S. ocean community - federal, state and local governments, science, industry, academia, environmental and other public interests. All have expressed the critical importance of U.S. membership in the Law of the Sea Convention.