Kyl offers compromise on Law of Sea treaty

The leader of the Republican opposition to Senate adoption of a U.N. maritime treaty has offered a path forward.

Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the Senate's second-ranking Republican, said Congress should pass legislation codifying the parts of the Law of the Sea Treaty the United States is comfortable with, in essence separating “the wheat from the chaff.”

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The Obama administration says joining the 160 nations that have already ratified the convention would help develop mutually agreed-upon rules for protecting the rights of all nations to free and open access to the seas, but Republicans have longstanding issues with other provisions.

“Congress could enact a statute that makes the navigational parts of the treaty, which codify the historical practice of seafaring nations, the law of the land,” Kyl told an American Enterprise Institute panel on sovereignty Monday evening, according to his prepared remarks.

“Then the Senate need not ratify the treaty, which still contains unacceptable provisions, including issues related to the exploitation of the seabed. A statute, in effect, can separate the wheat from the chaff. And the United States will contribute to the clarification of customary international law, by contributing its practices and legal opinions on the law of the sea.”



The comments come as opponents launch a full-court press against the treaty, which has the support of the U.S. military and a large swath of the American business community, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 


Kyl is leading a sign-on letter opposing the treaty that has already garnered 27 signatures — seven short of the total needed to doom passage in the Senate — and some former government officials are pushing back against the idea that recent modifications to the treaty would have made it palatable to President Ronald Reagan, who refused to sign it in 1983.

“With the treaty again under consideration by the Senate, it's important to note that Reagan's objections to it were anything but trivial,” Reagan's former attorney general Edwin Meese wrote in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “His view, articulated long before he entered the Oval Office, [was that] its fatal flaw was as great as it was simple: LOST posed a direct threat to American sovereignty.”

Proponents of the treaty, however, say enacting only the navigational parts of the treaty would shut the United States out of lucrative deep-sea-mining opportunities. 

The treaty creates a U.N. body to collect oil-and-gas royalties and redistribute them to poorer nations — a nonstarter for many Republicans — but U.S. energy companies won't drill for energy on the extended continental shelf past 200 nautical miles without the legal certainty embodied in the treaty, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month.