LITTLE KNOWN GROUP: The Arctic Council, an obscure eight-state diplomatic group which has served as a watchdog for the rights of the region's indigenous people and protector of its fragile ecosystem, is allowing new nations a seat at the table.
NEW OBSERVERS: China, India, Italy, Japan, Korea and Singapore were granted observer status to the council, joining several previously-accepted counties from Europe. The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status. The eight permanent members, including the United States, all touch the Arctic Circle.
RESOURCES EYED: Developing countries seek to mine the region for its energy and other natural resources. Widespread thawing of Arctic ice is opening shipping channels across once-frozen seas. Global warming is also making oil, gas, minerals and precious metals available.
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