In September, President Barack Obama announced that the US would take diplomatic action against Iceland to put an end to the country’s commercial whaling which would reduce diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Processing a slain fin whale in Iceland. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
US official Marie Yovanovitch, who was recently-appointed representative of relations with the Nordic countries, stated last week that no action other than the US administration expressing its “concern” over the issue had taken place.
While environmental activists are calling for further action to prevent Iceland’s commercial whaling, specifically that the US implement trade sanctions against Iceland, Yovanovitch indicated that this is out of the question among “allies and friends.”
Yovanovitch met members of the Icelandic government last week to discuss the affairs of the Arctic regions, among other issues.
According to RÚV, she is the first US official to visit Iceland since Condoleezza Rice, the then US Secretary of State, visited the country three and a half years ago.
In an interview with Thóra Arnórsdóttir on news magazine Kastljós on October 26, Yovanovitch described the relations between Iceland and the US as those of “allies and friends” and stressed the importance of the countries’ partnership.
During the interview, Arnórsdóttir raised the issue of last month’s whaling controversy when US President Obama said action would be taken against Iceland’s whaling, even indicating trade restrictions, and asked Yovanovitch how that issue currently stands.
“There was talk of trade restrictions and, adding to that, the US is a big whaling nation as well,” Arnórsdóttir stated.
“First of all, to clarify, there are no trade restrictions or sanctions,” Yovanovitch responded. “What we decided to do was, obviously, to review this and to raise our concerns with the Icelandic government, which we have done.”
“The difference is that what the US is concerned about and what the IWC is concerned about is commercial whaling,” she added. “Obviously there are quotas for indigenous whaling and that’s the difference.”
“We do have concerns and we do hope that the moratorium on whaling does continue but I think that this is something that we can work through together as allies and friends,” Yovanovitch said.
“So this is more like a threat that won’t go through than sanctions and trade restrictions?” Arnórsdóttir pressed, to which Yovanovitch responded, “We don’t like to use that particular word.”
“What we’re registering is our strong concerns. We do have views on this and we want to continue to discuss it and we hope that Iceland as it reviews its own policies on this issue will maintain its moratorium,” Yovanovitch concluded.
In related news, last week the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) issued a press release, stating that representatives of the organizations had bought minke whale steaks at the Inspired by Iceland store at Keflavík International Airport on two separate occasions.
In both cases the store’s staff gave “inaccurate” information on the purchase in that they said that the meat could legally be imported into the US, “In fact, such citizens could face arrest and prosecution under several US laws for illegal wildlife trade,” the press release states.
The press release described President Obama’s move as such: “He directed his administration to take a series of actions against Iceland under the US ‘Pelly Amendment’, but stopped short of economic measures while fin whaling remains suspended. Iceland’s minke whaling season is still underway.”
The press release goes on to state that the US Department of the Interior (DOI) is currently reviewing a separate request under the Pelly Amendment, related to the export of more than 1,500 tons of whale products to Japan and other countries in recent years.
The DOI will make its own recommendations to President Obama concerning whether Iceland’s actions diminish the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that bans international commercial trade in whale products.
AWI and WDCS believe this “new evidence of a blatant illegal trade” in whale products compels the DOI to recommend that President Obama take even stronger action against Iceland. The groups are calling for trade sanctions against the country.