TROMSO, Norway - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boards a research ship on Saturday to tour the Arctic, where big powers are vying for vast deposits of oil, gas and minerals that are becoming available as the polar ice recedes.

The top US diplomat took the unusual step of visiting Tromso, a Norwegian town in the Arctic Circle, to dramatize US interests in a once inaccessible region whose resources are up for grabs as the sea ice melts with climate change.

"From a strategic standpoint, the Arctic has an increasing geopolitical importance as countries vie to protect their rights and extend their influence," Clinton told reporters in Oslo before making the nearly two-hour flight north to Tromso.

"We want to work with Norway and the Arctic Council to help manage these changes and to agree on what would be, in effect, the rules of the road in the Arctic, so new developments are economically sustainable and environmentally responsible," she added.

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