Can compromise save the whale?
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Santiago
So it's official - both sides want peace. Or do they? As the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting came to a close, not everyone was convinced by the rhetoric of reason and good faith.
Heard in the corridor: "We've been down this road before", "They're not serious", "It's just a ploy to eat up time".
IWC history is bloody with betrayal. It will take more than an agreement to link arms and waltz off into the sunset to convince seasoned observers on both sides that anything more than a crock of frustration and heartache lies at the end of the path.
Also heard in the corridor: "We have to try", "It's the last chance", "Anything would be better than this mess".
The EU has a very clear mandate - we want to have the moratorium, or any better alternative that would stop whaling in due course, except for aboriginal whaling
Giuseppe Raaphorst, Netherlands' whaling commissioner
Even the keenest of those involved with the plan for pro- and anti-whaling countries to spend a year working out their differences and trying to agree some kind of compromise package acknowledge there is a great deal of ground to be covered.
"There's no doubt there are big gaps here between those who want to kill whales and those who want to conserve them," says New Zealand's whaling commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer, whose background in international law and diplomacy is one of the reasons why the peace deal is even on the agenda.
"What we've done is to start a process. It may lead to a position that is better than the one we're in, and that would be a wonderful thing."
Coming from a country where 92% of the population opposes whaling - according to the environment ministry - Sir Geoffrey's priority is to secure a deal that is in some definable way better for whales.
His government would be able to sell nothing less to its public, and the same goes for Australia, the UK, the US and most of the European and Latin American countries involved in the IWC
Thoughts and views on the IWC, whales and whaling
The biggest prize for these governments would be to secure an end to scientific whaling - not only to close Japan's current operations in the Antarctic, but also to prevent the provision ever being used again for large scale hunting.
Japan insists for now that it will not agree to give it up, although some observers believe this is a negotiating tactic.
From some standpoints, Japan would have little to lose and much to gain by ceding ground. The scientific whaling programme costs government money, and earns little but international opprobrium.
Anti-whaling countries would also be likely to insist on a ban in international trade in whale meat. This would go down badly with Norway and Iceland, where some in the industry see Japanese stomachs, rather than those of their compatriots, as the logical and profitable destination for their catch.
For all the talk of respect and a different way of approaching things - they're not going to compromise in any way
Laila Jusnes, High North Alliance
What about what the whalers would want? Almost certainly, a lifting - however partial and nuanced - of the commercial whaling moratorium, which was agreed back in 1982 in language that suggests a temporary measure.
Can the anti-whalers go that far?
"I'm afraid that for at least half if not a majority of the countries here present, that would be unacceptable out of principle, even if you would help the whales," says Giuseppe Raaphorst, the Netherlands' whaling commissioner, who has been one of the voices in the EU seeking an accommodation.
It may be an accurate summary of the situation.
If it is, that is not going to impress leaders of the pro-hunting bloc, already dismayed at this meeting by the decision not to allow Greenland's Inuit hunters to add humpback whales to their annual catch.
"I'm afraid that we're just walking around in circles," says Laila Jusnes of the High North Alliance, which represents whalers, sealers and fishermen in the Arctic.
"When it came down to anything of substance, like with the Greenland request, we saw that for all the talk of respect and a different way of approaching things, they didn't mean it - the EU blocked it with help from the Latin American countries and Australia and New Zealand - and that just showed us that they're not going to compromise in any way."
This version of the reasoning behind the refusal of Greenland's extra quota is, of course, starkly at odds with that given by countries voting against it.
And Giuseppe Raaphorst believes the EU is not duty bound to block any move that entails lifting the moratorium.
"The EU has a very clear mandate - we want to have the moratorium, or any better alternative that would stop whaling in due course, except for aboriginal whaling."
Where this will end up in a year's time, after all the various formal and informal meetings and dialogues and workshops and email exchanges have taken place, is anyone's guess.
At times your head aches with the complexity.
So it was refreshing to see, in the lobby of the Santiago hotel which has hosted this year's meeting, an exhibition of startlingly huge photographs of whales - a humpback turning upside down, apparently frolicking; a mother and calf; a close-up view of a giant cetacean eye.
And then you remember - so that's why it matters.