Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama Toughens US Line Against Whaling

Obama toughens US line against whaling
by Shaun Tandon Shaun Tandon – Fri Mar 6, 10:23 pm ET
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WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama's administration has admitted it would firmly oppose whaling, delighting environmentalists ahead of a key international meeting with pro-whaling Japan.
Anti-whaling campaigners said Obama was signaling a tougher US stance leading into the meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) opening Monday in Rome which is set to look at a controversial compromise proposal.
Japan hunts hundreds of whales a year in the Pacific and Antarctic using a loophole in a 1986 IWC moratorium that allows "lethal research" on the ocean giants. Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium altogether.
"The United States continues to view the commercial whaling moratorium as a necessary conservation measure and believes that lethal scientific whaling is unnecessary in modern whale conservation management," said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality.
She said the Obama administration would wait and see the proposals on the table in Rome but stressed: "It is our view that any package, to be acceptable, must result in a significant improvement in the conservation status of whales."
Japan has repeatedly threatened to leave the IWC if the 84-member body does not shift to what Tokyo believes is its original purpose -- managing a sustainable kill of whales.
Japan's Antarctic whaling missions infuriate nearby Australia and New Zealand and have been dogged by environmental militants, whose harassment has cut down the total catch.
Faced with the deadlock, the US representative to the IWC, William Hogarth, who was appointed by former president George W. Bush, launched a drive to salvage the six-decade-old global body.
In closed-door talks this year in Hawaii, Hogarth -- also the outgoing chairman of the IWC -- floated a compromise to let Japan hunt whales near its coast while scaling down its Antarctic hunts.
But Australia has demanded a complete end to Antarctic whaling. Japan has said it will not halt research whaling but is expected to make its own proposal in Rome that could reduce the number it kills.
US Congressman Nick Rahall, who heads the House Natural Resources Committee and has called for Obama to remove Hogarth, applauded the administration Friday for sending "a strong and timely message" against whaling.
"The United States must stand firm, and serve as a model, in its pursuit to support, encourage and convince countries such as Japan, Iceland and Norway who wish to see commercial whaling continue to join the emerging global consensus for whale conservation in the 21st century," Rahall said.
Paul Kline, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace USA, said the environmental group was "thrilled" with the Obama stance.
"It's great to see the United States putting out a strong position and positioning itself to truly be a world leader in whale conservation, which really supports the broad sentiment across America," he said.
"The past few years US leadership hasn't been there at all and the strongest voice has been taken over by Australia and a block of Latin countries led by Brazil," he said.
Environmentalists argue either that whale stocks are still too low to support a hunt or that it is immoral to kill the giant mammals.
Japan says whaling is a tradition and accuses Westerners of disrespecting its culture.
Despite the whaling stance, Obama has moved quickly to show the US commitment to its alliance with Japan, inviting Prime Minister Taro Aso as the first foreign leader to see him at the White House.
Whaling by Norway and Iceland has drawn less global attention, in part because they hunt closer to home.
But the United States last week denounced Iceland after the island's new left-wing government maintained a decision to go ahead with a sharply higher whaling quota.