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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2003
Japan to take 'second track' into Middle East
Hoping to strengthen ties with the Middle East, Japan will launch a multilateral forum with Arab leaders next week to discuss pressing issues in postwar Iraq and other problems facing the region, the government said Friday.
The closed-door meeting, with high-ranking officials from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, will be held Thursday and Friday in a Tokyo hotel, according to former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, who will chair the gathering.
The Arab world remains divided over the U.S.-led war that toppled Saddam Hussein, and Japan, which relies on the Middle East for the oil to fuel its economy, is hoping to establish a stronger diplomatic relationship with the region's leaders, independent of the United States.
After returning from his trip to the Middle East in May, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi asked Hashimoto to create a so-called "second track" diplomatic channel between Japan and the Arab nations. The upcoming meeting will assess the impact of the Iraq war and discuss ways to rebuild Iraq.
"Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the key countries in the region," Hashimoto said. "But we hope to expand the member nations in the future."
Japan eventually hopes to include representatives of the U.S.-backed Governing Council of Iraq. The government also hopes that setting up the forum will pave the way for the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces units to the region.
The Saudi delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal, while the Egyptian delegation will be led by Ismail Serageldin, director of the Library of Alexandria and reportedly close to President Hosni Mubarak.
The Japanese participants will include Yukio Okamoto, a top diplomatic aide to Koizumi, and Kenji Miyahara, chairman of the Japan Foreign Trade Council.