Cables released by wikileaks on January 1st, 2011 reveal Japan was pressuring the US Government to remove Sea Shepherd's tax exemption status as a sweetener to negotiating a compromise deal in the International Whaling Commission that would have reduced whale quotas but legitimated commercial whaling. The US Government and Japan were deeply involved in a compromise deal on whaling which would legitimate a commercial catch quota for Japan. Australia remained steadfast against any moves to legitimate whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary or Australian Antarctic Territory.
It seems Peter Garrett, the Australian Environment Minister, stood his ground against the compromise deal (10CANBERRA93 created 2010-02-05), although it appears the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were keen on the compromise deal as a way of reforming the IWC (and perhaps earning some brownie points with the US). Environment Department Chief of Staff David Williams gave a small amount of ground when he outlined a negotiating position for the Australian Government that "delivers a much lower level of whaling, but it has to be accompanied by signals of commitment to address other key issues - sustaining the commercial moratorium, keeping whaling out of the southern sanctuary areas and Australian antarctic waters, bringing all whaling under the control of the IWC, and preventing future scientific whaling." Even this small degree of compromise would be found politically objectionable to many conservation minded Australians.
(Excerpted from 10CANBERRA93 created 2010-02-05)
2. (C/NF) Garrett told Ambassador Bleich he appreciated the "robust" exchange between the U.S. and Australia on whaling and felt he could speak frankly. In Garrett's view, the current agreement being negotiated in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and its associated small groups would, in the end, be unacceptable to the Australian government as it fell short in several areas. Garrett said the negotiating process had largely ground to a halt, with no "real" proposals on the table. He said legislation pending in the Australian parliament (introduced by the Green Party on February 4 to examine the role of "spy flights" in Japan's planning for this year's whaling season) would strengthen anti-whaling sentiment in Australia, making it difficult for the government to accept the current proposals. Garrett said the February 22 IWC Small Working Group briefings, which will alert the NGO and global community to the state of discussions, will be key for Australia's policy on the negotiations.
3. (C/NF) In separate discussions on February 5, GOA officials confirmed significant concerns with the whaling negotiations but stopped short of Garrett's complete rejection. PM Rudd's Foreign Policy Advisor Scott Dewar confirmed that there had not yet been any cabinet decision on whether to continue to work for a deal in the IWC. At the same time, he told Pol-Econ Counselor that the current notional deal (on which there is no agreement in the IWC) is impossible to accept in the current political environment. DFAT's Paula Watt said that entreaties to Garrett and his DEWHA staff that the deal is a necessary step to reforming the IWC have "bounced off" Garrett and other negotiators. Watt said that the most likely chance for a cabinet meeting is on February 15, and that strong messages before that date may be needed to shore up support for a deal. Watt further indicated that the current assessment is that Japanese FM Okada's visit will be too close to the February 22 NGO briefings to present any opportunity to get further with the GOJ.
4. (C/NF) Garrett Chief of Staff David Williams told econoff that the GOA could accept a compromise that delivers a much Qthat the GOA could accept a compromise that delivers a much lower level of whaling, but it has to be accompanied by signals of commitment to address other key issues - sustaining the commercial moratorium, keeping whaling out of the southern sanctuary areas and Australian antarctic waters, bringing all whaling under the control of the IWC, and preventing future scientific whaling. Absent any signals on these areas, Garrett and other political leaders will be under consistent attack on a deal that only addresses numbers, however low. Williams was careful to say that Australia would not act precipitously and would signal its intentions clearly. Pol-Econ Counselor and Econoff both echoed Commissioner Medina's message (ref email) on the importance of staying at the table to Dewar, Williams and Watt.
Sea Shepherd Tax Exemption status in the US targeted
The cables reveal a campaign by Japanese authorities targeting the tax exemption status of Sea Shepherd in the United States.
In a meeting on November 2, 2009 Japanese Vice Minister for International Affairs Shuji Yamada pressured the US for removal of tax exemption status from Sea Shepherd.
(Excerpt from 09TOKYO2529 Created 2009-11-02)
Yamada inquired about an investigation into the tax status of the U.S.-based NGO Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and repeated Japan's request for the U.S. to take action against the organization, which he said created a very dangerous situation on the seas. The DCM replied that the U.S. places the highest priority on the safety of vessels and human life at sea, and added that if any violations of U.S. law are discovered, we will take appropriate enforcement action. Morishita went on to say it would be easier for Japan to make progress in the IWC negotiations if the U.S. were to take action against the Sea Shepherd.
In another cable dated 9 November 2009 (09TOKYO2588 Created 2009-11-09) stated "action by
the U.S. and others on Japan's complaints against the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society would positively influence Japan's negotiating position in the Future of the IWC process."
This cable is a report of a meeting between Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and U.S. representative to the International Whaling Commission Monica Medina and Fisheries Agency of Japan Director General Machida who said that "the violent protests by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) could limit the GOJ's flexibility in the negotiations. He said the Netherlands should have primary responsibly for taking action against the SSCS, but he appreciates the USG initiative to address the group's tax exempt status. He said action on the SSCS would be a major element for Japan in the success of the overall negotiations.
Ms Medina replied that "she believes the USG can demonstrate the group does not deserve tax exempt status
based on their aggressive and harmful actions."
In a State Department cable on whaling: request for political engagement the US was willing to concede continuation of whaling at reduced levels in exchange for taking action against Sea Shepherd:
(Excerpted from 09STATE117709 Created 2009-11-14)
- We fully appreciate that, for these negotiations to be concluded successfully, all participants will need to show maximum flexibility. If agreement on some reduction in Japan's catch levels can be reached, the United States believes that an overall interim agreement would be within reach.
- The United States stands ready to work with Japan and all other IWC members toward such an interim agreement. We understand that there is an important related issue regarding safety at sea of the Japanese research vessels that must also be addressed.
A cable on January 27, 2010 from the US Tokyo embassy of discussions with MOFA State Secretary Fukuyama
and Fisheries Agency Deputy Director General Yamashita was about pressing Iceland to lower its proposed quota for whaling in order to facilitate an overall agreement on whaling. The US wanted Japan to talk to and pressure Iceland to reduce the number of fin whales killed as the kill numbers is greater than the demand in Japan. Japan was reluctant to do this. Again Japan raised the issue of pressuring Sea Shepherd :
(Excerpt from 10TOKYO171 Created 2010-01-27)
Turning to harassment of the Japanese whaling fleet by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), Yamashita said the NGO's actions have kept the fleet from reaching its quota the last few years. Yamashita said the GOJ would come under pressure domestically if SSCS harassment continues to keep Japanese whalers from filling their quota after an agreement on reduced numbers is reached within the IWC. EMIN said the USG is concerned about the safety of life at sea and is looking at the activity of the SSCS.
The five diplomatic cables reveal the two toned nature of the US Government position where it publicly states it's opposition to whaling while it is engaged deeply in negotiating a compromise deal with Japan that would legitimate commercial whaling again.
Photo of the Steve Irwin in pursuit of the Yushin Maru 3 courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR)