The United States is set to announce possible trade and diplomatic sanctions against Iceland for ramping up its whale hunts despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling.
The Obama administration will cite Iceland under a domestic law that allows the president to act against foreign nationals or countries who flout international animal conservation rules on Wednesday, US officials told The Associated Press.
After the announcement the president has 60 days to decide on sanctions. Sometimes, the threat of sanctions is enough to make targeted countries change their practices.
The move comes less than a week after the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission stalled in discord between pro-whaling nations such as Iceland and Japan and their opponents.
Iceland, Norway and Japan continue to hunt whales despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. The US is particularly concerned about Iceland's escalated hunt for endangered fin whales and its recent resumption of exports of whale meat to other pro-whaling nations.
Iceland has tried to cultivate a trade in fin whale meat that "just wasn't there" before, an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told AP.
"If there was to be a trade in whale meat again the moratorium against whaling would have a hard time surviving. Other countries might want to get into the action and whale stocks just haven't recovered," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the formal announcement.
Wildlife conservation groups have lobbied the Obama administration to take action against the Nordic island nation through the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act. US officials said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke would cite Iceland under the amendment on Wednesday and recommend a range of possible sanctions against Iceland to President Barack Obama.
They include targeting legitimate fish imports by Icelandic companies that are also involved in whaling. The president will also be urged to consider a number of diplomatic sanctions, ranging from US officials simply lobbying their Icelandic counterparts more forcefully on whaling to Cabinet members boycotting official visits to Iceland. State Department diplomats could also pull out of programs - for example in the Arctic - where the two countries routinely cooperate.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) described the US decision as "a bold move ... and represents a massive step forward in the fight against Iceland's illegal whaling."