May, 24 2012 11:41:32

New Zealand hopes to end whaling deadlock

WASHINGTON – New Zealand's foreign minister has voiced hope that Japan would find a way to compromise in coming years on whaling, despite a long and bitter deadlock in international negotiations.

Japan each year infuriates New Zealand and Australia by killing hundreds of whales in the Antarctic Ocean, skirting a global moratorium as Tokyo classifies its expeditions as scientific research.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said on Wednesday that the International Whaling Commission, which opens its annual meeting next month in Panama, was in a "holding pattern." But he voiced hope for the future.

"I'm hopeful that at some point in the next year or two, there will be an opportunity provided by, if you like, political windows for us to re-engage constructively," McCully said in an interview on a visit to Washington.

"I've kept close to my Japanese counterparts on the issue and just hope that we'll get at some point into a space where they regard themselves as able to make the movements that are required," he said.

Japan argues that whaling is part of its tradition and accuses Western nations of cultural insensitivity. Japan's powerful fishing industry, as well as right-wing activists, have urged no compromise on whaling.

But most of Japan's main allies say that whale populations are under threat, and the killing of the ocean giants has appalled the public in Australia and New Zealand where whale-watching is a popular pastime.

Japan's Fisheries Agency said it killed 266 minke whales on its latest Antarctic expedition, far below its target of around 900. The militant US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society routinely harasses the Japanese fleet to hinder the hunt.

McCully hoped that Japan would eventually find an economic argument against whaling, as it will need to invest in a new mothership and other infrastructure.

"The politics of this are difficult from the Japanese perspective, and I understand that. But I just hope that there will be a point in time where they do feel that they've got some political wiggle room to be able to come to a compromise," he said.

Norway and Iceland openly defy the moratorium on commercial whaling, which was adopted by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, but hunt close to their shores.

McCully said New Zealand was not focused on Japan's separate whaling activities close to its shores, but insisted that Tokyo must end its hunts in waters near Australia and New Zealand considered to be a whale sanctuary.

"I'm hopeful that Japan will at some stage come to an understanding that this is just not a practice that New Zealanders are prepared to accept within our region," he said.

The International Whaling Commission, with the cautious encouragement of the United States, offered a compromise in 2010 that would have allowed whaling by Japan, Iceland and Norway but also cut their catch sharply over 10 years and brought them under the world body's purview.

The proposal collapsed at the International Whaling Commission's 2010 meeting in Agadir, Morocco, with delegates agreeing to a cooling off period following tensions.

McCully on Thursday meets Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for talks expected to focus on growing co-operation between the United States and New Zealand, which are overcoming a a rift from the 1980s over US nuclear weapons.


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