GATINEAU, Que. - Canada moved to tamp down an apparent rift with the United States on Monday that saw U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton make an early departure from a meeting of Arctic coastal countries.
Clinton left a summit of Arctic coastal countries after criticizing Canada - the meeting's host - for not inviting all those with legitimate interests in the polar region.
Clinton skipped the closing news conference scheduled for the day-long session of five foreign ministers after saying she'd been contacted by indigenous groups disappointed they were not invited.
She also said Arctic states Sweden, Finland and Iceland were similarly concerned they were given the cold shoulder.
"Significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region," Clinton said.
"And I hope the Arctic will always showcase our ability to work together, not create new divisions."
It wasn't immediately clear why Clinton showed up for a meeting that in her view lacked key participants.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon reiterated Canada's earlier support for the larger Arctic Council - which includes the three countries not invited to Monday's meeting - as the leading decision-making body on the future of the polar region.
"Canada does respect the Arctic Council," said Cannon, the sole participant in the closing news conference. "Canada was one of the co-founders of the Arctic Council."
Earlier, Norway's foreign minister echoed Canada's position. Jonas Gahr Store said his country supported the more exclusive coastal states gathering that Canada hosted Monday, but still affirmed the lead role of the Arctic Council.
Store and Cannon said Monday's meeting was not meant as a slight and does not undermine their respect for the larger Arctic Council, which represents all countries with Arctic interests.
The countries meeting Monday have special issues to discuss because they are all coastal states, the ministers said.
However, Store also left the meeting before the closing news conference.
Aboriginal groups have also protested their exclusion from the meeting.
Liberal MP David McGuinty, his party's environment critic, called Clinton's departure "a pretty big embarrassment for Canada."
McGuinty said the controversy about the smaller meeting of coastal states has "been festering for a long time" and is one of several associated with the gathering.
As much as a quarter of Earth's undiscovered oil and gas is believed to be in the Arctic, and climate change is causing the rapid melting of Arctic ice, opening resource exploration potential.
Russia and Denmark also attended the Arctic forum.
Earlier, Store said Canada and its polar allies must keep a cool head and work with Russia to solve Arctic disputes.
"We sometimes analyze Russia with old mental maps, with the mental maps of the Cold War, where we have instinctive reactions to what we see and hear," Store said in an interview.
"One should not put all mental maps to the shredder. But I think updating mental maps ... analyzing it coolly is the responsibility of modern government."
Store didn't refer to Canada directly, but the Harper government has criticized Moscow in recent years over what it views as provocative conduct in the Far North. A Russian submarine planted a flag on the seabed of the North Pole and Moscow has sent bombers close - but never into - Canadian Arctic airspace.
"Not everything Russia does in the Arctic, not every flag they plant, which is a symbolic gesture, has legal meaning," he said. "And the more you react to that ... you give it meaning."
Store said Russia has legitimate interests in the Arctic and much of the resource wealth is in its sovereign territory, which should minimize future disputes.
However, maintaining relations with Moscow is complicated because Russia is not quite a "normal" state, he added.
"Russia is in transition, and as some of their able analysts are saying, they are lost in transition ... It is not certain in what state they will be when that transition ends.
"We are all served by seeing that transition landing softly into something where Russia can still be called a democracy with rule of law, civil society, freedom of press, and freedom of expression."
Going into Monday's meeting, Cannon said participants were to discuss "issues that relate to the continental mapping that fall under the United Nations Convention Law of the Seas."