Whaling dominates Japan PM's New Zealand trip

AUCKLAND - The thorny issue of whaling dominated Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe's whistlestop trip to New Zealand, with Prime Minister John Key saying they had agreed to disagree on the matter.

New Zealand and Australia hauled Japan before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its "scientific" whaling programme in Antarctic waters, leading to the UN court ruling in April that it was a commercial venture and had no research value. Abe has since signalled that the Japan intends to look at ways it can resume the annual Southern Ocean hunt without breaching the ICJ ruling, setting up a potentially awkward meeting with Key on his one-day visit. Key said that the Abe had confirmed the plan to resume whaling and the New Zealand leader reiterated his position that he wanted the harpooning to stop.

"The prime minister (Abe) did make it clear that they are looking at what sort of whaling programme, in theory, could be conducted that fits within the rules," Key told reporters. "He was very clear to say that Japan will abide by the ICJ decision but it's also fair to say that there's a difference of opinion. New Zealand would certainly prefer to see the end of all whaling." Key said the issue would not damage the bilateral relationship but New Zealand would be closely watching any Japanese attempt to revive the hunt.

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