1.00pm - By SUE EDEN

OSLO - Whale meat was not on the menu for lunch when Prime Minister Helen Clark today made the first official visit by a New Zealand prime minister to Norway where the two countries' opposing views on whaling were discussed.

"I can assure that I will not offer her whale meat at the lunch. We have another menu," Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik told reporters after their meeting.

New Zealand and Norway are generally on the same wavelength on environmental issues - with the exception of whaling.


Norway resumed whaling in 1993, seven years after an International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on whaling went into effect.

Norway opposed the establishment of a South Pacific whale sanctuary, which New Zealand and Australia have been fighting for. It also supports Japan's so-called scientific whaling programme.

It has set a quota of 670 catches for this year's hunt for minke whales in the Barents Sea, which began last month and ends in August.

Helen Clark said New Zealand and Norway had common issues on many international issues but their perspectives had always been different on whaling.

"There are very few issues which divide Norway and New Zealand. Traditionally, it has been the International Whaling Commission and probably some difference of emphasis in the WTO but overall its stances in the UN, stances in multilateralism are very, very similar positions."

The IWC next meets in Italy in July.

The two prime ministers discussed the whaling issue over lunch after discussing a range of international affairs, including the war in Iraq, in the morning.

Speaking to Norwegian and New Zealand journalists, Helen Clark said her message to the Norwegians was that the whale had suffered a great deal from humans using more and more advanced technology to hunt them "to the point of near extinction".

"I think in our country, people feel a very great affinity with whales and they want like to see if possible for them to swim freely, breathe freely in the great oceans without being exploited".

Mr Bondevik said Norway caught whales on "scientific" criteria with "limited" catches.

"It's also for us a question of ecologically balance in the seas, balance between whales and fishes and so on.

"We are in accordance with international regulations based on the Whaling Commission's recommendations."

Norway killed more than 600 whales a year but it had not yet voted on whether to increase catch limits.

"We know that there are some parties there who want to increase whale catch but this is a responsibility for the government," he said.

It was reported last month that stocks of whale meat caught in the 2003 hunting season were still in Oslo stores. Supermarkets have produced brochures suggesting recipes from burgers to stroganoff to induce consumers to buy the meat.

Helen Clark's visit to Norway was the last leg on her trip to Europe which started a week ago.

She also met Mr Bondevik in Normandy, France, at the weekend, when both leaders attended the 60th commemorations for D-Day.

The ceremonies were the main reason for Helen Clark's visit to Europe but she also built in visits to the Netherlands, Geneva and Norway.

She spent a night and a day in Oslo, and will arrive home tomorrow.