Whaling: Interested parties
From the International Whaling Commission meeting in Agadir, Morocco:
Whenever governments come together to discuss issues such as whaling, climate change, international trade or whatever, you might be tempted to think that the priority would be the common good.
You might assume, for example, that when fish stocks are under threat, all governments involved in the issue would start from the standpoint that they all have to do what's necessary in order to preserve those stocks for the common interest of future generations.
The assumption would be completely wrong.
National interests are what predominate - as demonstrated most recently in the environment arena at the Copenhagen climate summit and again at the CITES meeting in Doha - and sometimes a fairly narrow reading of the national interest.
Here in Agadir, as delegates debate in their private sessions an issue of huge significance to many people around the world, national politics are again at work - and could help determine the outcome of the talks on the proposed "compromise deal" in ways you might never have predicted, and that sometimes have little to do with whaling itself.
Take the US, which has been in the vanguard of anti-whaling nations attempting to build a compromise deal with Japan.
Now, the Obama administration is coming under fire from environmental groups and indeed ordinary citizens over its handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, and to a lesser extent over its actions on climate change.
Finalising a deal here could well bring more opprobrium from the green lobby, on the grounds that it has "sold out" whales.
Conversations have been had within the administration, consequently, on whether it should curb its apparent enthusiasm for a compromise and instead pursue a more purist line - not because that would be the right thing to do, but because it would suit the immediate political interest.
There hasn't been a complete change of tack, but there are nuances, with its opening statement here set to vow that "First and foremost, the United States continues to support the commercial whaling moratorium."
However, the long-time US priority for the IWC is to secure subsistence whaling quotas for the indigenous Inupiat of Alaska.
So its draft statement would justify its desire to move on from the status quo by saying: "We believe it is fundamentally unfair that indigenous whaling be the only whaling regulated by the Commission".
Subsistence quotas are usually reviewed every five years. The draft compromise document [353KB PDF] would enshrine them for 10 years - which, you have to think, is one of the "many positive elements" that the US notes in the draft package.
Australia, meanwhile, is emerging as the most hawkish of the anti-deal countries.
Undoubtedly that stems in part from genuine abhorrence: yet could it also be influenced by the fact that there's an election coming, that whaling and climate change are both very much live issues, and that polls show the government is taking a real pasting from the electorate over its recent climb-down on climate change?
Could that help explain why it lodged its action against Japanese whaling in the International Court of Justice while still engaged in the small-group discussions on a compromise that conclude here?
One notable absentee is the Chilean chairman of the IWC, Cristian Maquieira.
Officially, he's absent for health reasons.
But the talk among Latin American delegates is of a "diplomatic illness", with Chile's government concerned that strident criticism of the notion of a deal from environmental groups is damaging the country's reputation and so preventing Mr Maquieira from attending.
If that's correct, the absence of his considerable diplomatic experience is judged by Chile to be in its national interest, whatever it means for the talks.
On the other side of the coin, Iceland has emerged as the most hawkish of the whaling nations.
Its single fin whaling company, Hvalur hf, wants to build an export trade to Japan. In times of economic hardship and rising unemployment, it argues that whaling can make an economic contribution that's small from a global perspective, but significant locally.
The owner of Hvalur hf, Kristjan Loftsson, also has interests in the fishing industry and believes that if Iceland joins the EU, as the government wants, application of the EU's much-derided Common Fisheries Policy will seriously damage the local (and fairly well-managed) industry.
For all these reasons, Iceland will not accept a clause in the proposed deal that would mandate local consumption only for whalemeat. In fact, Mr Loftsson suggests such a clause might be in breach of WTO rules.
Whatever happens here, his whaling boats are set to sail again soon - perhaps as soon as next week.
And what of the EU? Here, there's an added complication, because while some government officials would be pushing primarily for acceptance or rejection of a deal, the priority for others would be to ensure adherence to a common EU position in the interest of displaying unity across the bloc.
The big unknown is what the Japanese government considers to be in its national interest: continuing with the principle that high-seas scientific whaling is legitimate, or deciding that it's not, that securing internationally-sanctioned quotas for its coastal whaling communities is more important politically, and that here is the best opportunity it's likely to have for many years to make a graceful exit from the Southern Ocean?
What part will economic hard times play in that decision, or reputation damage from the recent publication of evidence on Japan's funding of IWC allies?
How that coin comes down is the single biggest factor in determining whether compromise can be achieved here.
But it isn't the only one. Some of the other national interests are arousing concern around the negotiating table; and as New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully put it, a break-up must therefore be considered more likely than a breakthrough.