Whales' Best Friend ?

The closed-door working group session of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) continued today here at the Tradewinds Resort in St. Pete Beach, Florida. While it isn't easy for those of us sitting outside the room to get specifics, delegates indicate discussions inside are proceeding very slowly, with representatives from the 24 countries present still mostly focused on procedural matters.

We have also been told that representatives of Iceland, apparently eager to get things rolling, have suggested changing the name and mandate of the IWC Conservation Committee, established by majority vote in open session at the 2003 IWC annual meeting in Berlin, Germany. Iceland, which has inexplicably returned to whaling after a 16 year hiatus, reportedly suggested the changing the name to the "Conservation and Sustainable Use" Committee -- a wrong-headed idea familiar to many longtime IWC observers. We also are advised that when the group finally turned to substantive issues this afternoon, the coastal whaling proposal put forward by the Government of Japan was at the top of the agenda. It becomes increasingly clear why some want to keep these discussions secret.

As we sit outside the meeting room, I think of our family's old Golden retriever, Glory, who throughout her long life would regularly perk up at meal time, hoping for bits and scraps from family members at the table. Apparently, I am not the only one struck by this metaphor. More than one delegate reports that Alvaro de Soto, the smooth and savvy Peruvian Ambassador recruited to lead this week's closed-door sessions, has also compared the non-governmental representatives sitting outside to man's best friend, confidently assuring delegates that "the dogs bark, and the caravan moves on."

After lunch, de Soto greets me in the hotel elevator, and I cannot resist. "I'm tempted to say 'bow-wow,'" I tell him. "Bow-wow?" he asks warily. "The dogs bark," I say with a smile, "and the caravan moves on." de Soto says nothing, drops his gaze to his palm pilot and heads back into the meeting. So far his closed-door caravan is going no where fast, but seems to be heading in the wrong direction.

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