Sat, Jan 08, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Whale agreement plotted by US and Japan: WikiLeaks

THE GUARDIAN, LONDON

Japan and the US proposed to investigate and act against international anti-whaling activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) as part of a political deal to reduce whaling in Antarctic waters.

Four confidential cables from the US embassy in Tokyo and the US Department of State in Washington, released by WikiLeaks, show US and Japanese diplomats secretly negotiating a compromise agreement ahead of a key meeting last year of the International Whaling Commission (ICW), the body that regulates international whaling.

The US proposal would have forced Japan to reduce the number of whales that Japan killed each year in the Antarctic whale sanctuary in return for the legal right to hunt other whales off its own coasts.

In addition, the US proposed to ratify laws that would “guarantee security in the seas” — a reference to acting against groups, such as Sea Shepherd, that have tried physically to stop whaling.

The US proposal was eventually shot down by Britain and the EU in June last year, but the cables show the Sea Shepherd group had become a political embarrassment to Japan after stopping its whaling fleet reaching its annual quota of whale killed for several years.

The group, led by captain Paul Watson, a co-founder of Greenpeace, has a reputation for physically confronting whalers, sealers and illegal fishing boats. Its flotilla of ships, which sport the skull and crossbones flag, monitors illegal fishing in the Galapagos Islands and spends months each year following and harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in frequently dangerous clashes.

On Wednesday, two Sea Shepherd ships, the Steve Irwin and the Gojira, were involved in cat-and-mouse skirmishes with two whaling ships. Activists reportedly hurled stink bombs on to the deck as whalers tried to use water cannon.

TAX ISSUES

The US cables show how on Nov. 2, 2009, then-Japanese vice-minister for international affairs Shuji Yamada asked lead US negotiator Monica Medina about an investigation of the tax affairs of Sea Shepherd. It is unclear whether the US government had already launched an investigation or which country had proposed it.

“Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the US-based NGO [non-governmental organization] Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan’s request for the US to take action against the organisation, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas,” one cable said.

The US government dodged this request, but the cable continues: “The DCM [deputy chief of mission] replied that the US places the highest priority on the safety of vessels and human life at sea, and added that if any violations of US law are discovered, we will take appropriate enforcement action.”

However, the Japanese diplomats then responded: “It would be easier for Japan to make progress in the IWC negotiations if the US were to take action against the Sea Shepherd.”

One week later, the Japanese pressed the US to take action against Sea Shepherd again, saying that “violent protests by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society [SSCS] could limit the government of Japan’s flexibility in the negotiations.”

ADVICE TAKEN

It appears from the diplomatic chatter that the US did look into the NGO’s status.

In the same cable, Medina is reported as saying that the US government, “can demonstrate the group [Sea Shepherd] does not deserve tax exempt status based on their aggressive and harmful actions.”

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