Saying that Japan has violated international rules by expanding its whale hunt, the White House plans to announce today that it is starting a process that could lead to economic sanctions against Japanese imports within two months. Earlier this summer, Japan began hunting Bryde’s whales and sperm whales for the first time in years, claiming the hunts qualify as scientific whaling under International Whaling Commission rules — even though some meat from the hunts is destined for Tokyo restaurants. Japan says that the White House is pursuing sanctions to bolster Vice President Al Gore’s standing with environmental groups and that it will take its case to the World Trade Organization if the U.S. moves forward with sanctions.

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