Japan and the European Union staked out opposing positions on commercial whaling Monday at the start of global talks here, underscoring how hard it will be to hammer out a compromise deal.
"We cannot accept the strong opinions to eliminate all whaling activities. Compromise must be found from both sides," Hideki Moronuki, told AFP.
Despite a 1986 moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales, Japan, Norway and Iceland have flouted the ban and still kill the animals, more than 1,500 in the 2008-2009 season alone, not including those netted incidentally "by catch."
The 88 members of the International Whaling Commission are holding their annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco with a proposal on the table to end the moratorium in return for gradual cuts in the number of whales killed.
"We think the proposal on the table is a good starting point," said Moronuki.
Led by Germany and Britain, European countries have welcomed Japan's apparent willingness to trim its kill quotas, but said that is not enough.
"Japan has signalled that they are ready to reduce their catch by about 50 percent over 10 years," said Gert Lindermanm, leader of the German delegation.
"But the numbers should lay out the path so that step by step commercial whaling should be finished."
The proposed deal would require the gradual reduction of kill quotas over a 10-year period, but says nothing about what happens after that.
Anti-whaling nations and conservation groups have said the quotas are too generous, only a few percentage points shy of what the three nations harvest already unilaterally.
"We can agree on a compromise, but it should say what the situation will be after the 10-year period. At the end of the interim period, at the latest, whaling in the sanctuaries has to be finished," Lindermann told AFP.
After a brief opening ceremony, the tense talks — which run through Friday — went into a small, closed-door meeting to try to close the gap between pro- and anti-whaling nations.
"They have never closed the opening sessions for a day-and-a-half," said Sue Lieberman of the PEW environmental group.
"They want to have a series of bilateral meetings to see if they can find some common ground on the chair's proposal."