Source AP ©

Countries try to share natural-gas and oil exploration rights around Atlantic islet

Ireland made up a compromise plan Friday for Britain, Iceland and Denmark over how to share natural-gas and oil exploration rights around a remote Atlantic islet.

The four countries have spent five years trying to strike a deal on exploiting the ocean shelf surrounding Rockall, a 23-meter-tall (75-foot-tall) granite outcrop midway between Ireland, Scotland, Iceland and the autonomous Danish territory of the Faeroe Islands.

Following two days of negotiations in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, Ireland said the proposal it presented Friday maps out how to partition the Rockall seabed among the four.

Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, who did not take part in the talks, said the plan "provides a reasonable template for delivering a final resolution."

He said the diplomats from the Faeroes "made positive soundings about our proposal" but Iceland "retains its own position." Ireland and Britain struck their own 1988 deal on sharing exploration rights, but the others pursued their own claims.

Ahern declined to characterize Iceland's objections, but stressed that a deal should be possible when the talks resume in mid-January in Dublin.

"We have come to outline agreements in relation to other parts of our seabed in the Atlantic. There is no reason ultimately why we also can't do a deal on this protracted issue," he said.

Under terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a 1982 treaty accepted by all four countries, securing rights to Rockall's offshore deposits could depend on a country demonstrating that its own shelf is connected to Rockall's shelf.

Any agreement among the four claimants must be ratified by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by a treaty-imposed deadline of May 2009.

All four countries have conducted surveys of the Rockall shelf, which exceeds 420,000 square miles (1.1 million square kilometers).

Geologists say Rockall is the wave-battered remains of a volcano left behind when modern-day Greenland and Europe split apart about 55 million years ago. Rockall is 287 miles (462 kilometers) from mainland Scotland, its nearest neighbor.

The current negotiations do not seek to lay claim to Rockall itself or to fishing rights, which are governed by other European Union-level treaties.