As the ice melts, commercial shipping passage becomes possible, along with oil exploration. Russia recently set a flag on the North Pole's seafloor to illustrate their claims.
The United States has resisted ratifying the Law of the Sea Convention, the Republicans and Libertarians holding out in the name of St. Ronnie, although President Bush has recommended its ratification in his diffident way. But the Russian feat may have woken someone up.
The United States was represented at the conference by Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. That's pretty high up the line. He is also urging Congress to ratify the Law of the Sea Convention.
The agreement reached at the meeting follows the Convention's requirements. But it's not clear to me how that will hold up if the United States stays out of the Convention.