In a move hailed by conservation activists, President Barack Obama initiated potential diplomatic sanctions against Iceland this week for its commercial whaling activity. The sanctions include six measures ranging from possibly limiting cabinet-level visits to Iceland to limiting cooperation with Iceland in the Arctic region.
While such sanctions might seem mild to some, for environmentalists it was akin to throwing down the gauntlet, diplomatically speaking. “This is a real shot across the bow,” said Patrick Ramage, global whale program director with the International Fund for Animal Welfare
The disagreement has its roots in a decision by Iceland to resume commercial whale hunting in 2006. In subsequent years the annual number of endangered fin whales killed by Icelandic fleets for whale-meat exports to Japan has risen from 7 to 148.
In a letter sent to Congress on Wednesday night, the president said that such activities “diminish the effectiveness of the International Whaling Commission conservation program” and could result in sanctions.
The basis for such sanctions was first certified by Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke in July as part of the legal process. He suggested six possible actions that the United States might take to increase pressure on Iceland. The White House had the option to choose none or some of the sanctions; it chose all six.
Mr. Ramage said the decision was being taken seriously in Iceland, where officials are worrying out loud that their whaling activities, which largely benefit one company, are hurting relations with the United States.