- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts — Pro-whaling nations, led by Japan, lost the first major vote of the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting yesterday — an indication they may not have the majority necessary to take control of the body and try to repeal its ban on commercial hunting.

Japan sought to remove the issue of hunting dolphins and porpoises from the agenda of the 70-member IWC but failed by a 32-30 vote.

A key vote against the measure came from Belize, a small Central American country that has received aid from Japan and had been expected by environmental groups to support it on the whaling commission.

At the meeting, Japan and other pro-whaling nations had been expected to form a majority on the international body for the first time since a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.

Pro-whaling countries need a 75 percent majority of those voting to repeal the commercial ban — considered unlikely — but a simple majority would give them more influence over future decisions and the potential to make significant changes.

The United States and Australia are the leading proponents of the whaling ban, but pro-whaling nations — including Japan, Iceland and Norway, the only nation openly conducting commercial hunts — argue that whale populations have risen since it was implemented.

After yesterday’s vote, Joji Morishita, leader of the Japanese delegation, downplayed his country’s interest in securing a majority on the commission, which is meeting on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts.

“We aren’t so obsessed with the majority,” Mr. Morishita said. “We want to make sure we can get countries to accept the fact that we can at some point move to sustainable commercial hunting of whales.”

Japan sought to remove from the agenda a proposal to discuss the hunting of dolphins, porpoises and small whales, which currently are not regulated by the commission. Anti-whaling advocates said the vote to keep that item on the agenda showed that member countries were open to debate.

“The fact that Belize broke ranks shows the Caribbean is open to listening to its people on the issue of hunting whales,” said Kitty Block, spokeswoman for Humane Society International.

However, a member nation can ignore a commission decision by filing an objection within 90 days of its passage.

A shift to a pro-whaling majority would come after years of lobbying by Japan to get developing nations to join the whaling commission. Environmental groups have accused Japan of using its wealth to influence poorer nations — a claim Tokyo has denied.

Scott Smullen, spokesman for the U.S. delegation, said it was too early to say if pro-whaling nations could achieve a majority.

“It is premature to make any grand statement,” Mr. Smullen said. “We have to wait to see how the secret ballot vote goes.”

At the top of the commission’s agenda will be a vote on secret ballot expected by this morning. Pro-whaling nations want the organization to vote secretly on major issues, something the organization has never done in its 60-year history, officials said.

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