MONACO (AP) _ A proposal by a Washington state tribe to begin whale hunts for the first time in 70 years is one of the contentious issues the International Whaling Commission must face at its annual meeting this week.

The 43-nation commission, founded in 1948 to prevent overhunting of whales, has forbidden commercial whaling since 1986, but not all nations are following the ban. The commission is also coming under increasing pressure from traditional whalers, including the Makah Indian tribe in Washington state, to ease rules for hunting the giant sea mammals.

Monaco's Prince Rainier opened the five-day meeting Monday by urging delegates to seek solutions that would spare as many whales as possible. ``The tense conflict between the whaling and anti-whaling factions seems more and more a no-win situation _ alas _ for the whales,'' he said.

Scott Smullen of the U.S. delegation said an Irish proposal to allow limited commercial whale hunts was also likely to be a heated issue.

The Irish proposal would allow Japan and Norway to harpoon minke whales in coastal waters up to 200 miles out, giving the go-ahead to commercial whaling for the first time in 11 years. In return, whaling nations would have to accept the establishment of a global whale sanctuary and the closing of a legal loophole that allows killing for scientific research.

``On commercial whaling, we are still adamantly opposed,'' Smullen said. He also said the United States maintains its stiff opposition to Norway's commercial whale hunts, which resumed in 1993 after a six-year break.

Norway is the only country in the world that engages in commercial whaling. It is not legally bound by the ban under International Whaling Commission rules and claims the minke whales it hunts are plentiful and are an important source of revenue for coastal communities.

Whaling nations as Norway, Japan and Iceland complain the International Whaling Commission has become an organization devoted to preventing whale hunts rather than managing them.

A few protesters gathered Monday in downtown Monaco, including Jeff Ides, a Makah Indian in native dress. Ides objects to a U.S. proposal that would allow his tribe to hunt a few gray whales a year.

``There are some of us who are opposed,'' Ides said. His tribe has not hunted whales for 70 years and Ides doesn't think it needs to start now.

However, another tribe member, Wayne Johnson, said whaling could help his tribe of about 1,400 cope with 60 percent unemployment. ``We just want to feed our people,'' Johnson said.

Last week, Rep. Jack Metcalfe, R-Wash., and a coalition of groups filed suit in Washington, D.C., to block the hunt.

During its meeting this year, the International Whaling Commission will also review a Japanese program to hunt whales for scientific purposes, examine methods for killing whales and consider requests for quotas by indigenous groups.