• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright clashed Monday over Japan’s expanded whaling program, with both warning of retaliatory measures.

The dispute surfaced during a 55-minute meeting that also had Kono and Albright exchanging views over nuclear disarmament, reform of the United Nations and Myanmar.

Both were here for the U.N. Millennium General Assembly session.

Albright conveyed “strong disappointment” over Japan’s decision to expand its whaling program to include other endangered species, such as sperm and Bryde’s whales, and warned that Washington is looking at possible measures under U.S. law, a State Department official said.

In response, Kono told Albright that Japan “will take action under international laws should the U.S. impose trade sanctions,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

The Japanese official said Japan’s measures could include lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

Kono said the species covered by the whaling program are not endangered and that the program is for internationally permitted “scientific research” purposes. “We should deal with the issue calmly,” Kono was quoted as saying.

But Albright made it clear that “we care greatly about this subject” in urging Japan to reconsider the program, the U.S. official said.

Washington announced last month a set of protest actions, including the cancellation of regular bilateral fisheries talks, a boycott of two environmental meetings in Japan and opposition to Japan playing host next year to an International Whaling Commission gathering.

Washington also is considering trade sanctions.

Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta will decide this month whether to ask President Bill Clinton to call for sanctions, which could include an import curb, by invoking a U.S. law aimed at countries judged to have threatened to endanger fishery resources.

Sperm and Bryde’s whales are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act, and sperm whales are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Japan has decided to include in this year’s whaling program a plan to catch 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde’s whales, as well as 100 minke whales, in the Northwestern Pacific.

Four Japanese whaling vessels, part of a six-vessel fleet, left Japan in late July under the “scientific whaling” program, despite a personal appeal sent to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori from Clinton urging Japan to reconsider the plan.

The meat from Japan’s “scientific” hunts reportedly ends up in posh restaurants.

On Myanmar, Albright asked for Japan’s cooperation to stop the military government from harassing and restricting the activities of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Albright and Kono agreed that the restrictions are “totally unacceptable,” the U.S. official said.

The Japanese official said Kono deplored the junta’s recent behavior and promised to consider such measures as using its envoy in Yangon to put pressure on the junta.

Albright reiterated U.S. support for Japan’s bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, while agreeing with Kono that the council needs to be reformed, the U.S. official said.

Kono asked for U.S. backing on a nuclear disarmament resolution that Japan plans to submit to the millennium assembly, and Albright vowed to consider the request.

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