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Tuesday, May 17, 2005
100 MILLION DOLLARS FOR INFRASTRUCTURE
Japan offers Palestinians a carrot
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi pledged Monday to provide $100 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority to promote the Middle East peace process, which has gained momentum after the November death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The announcement came after his meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Prime Minister's Official Residence.
The aid offer, which is for an unspecified period of time, buttresses Tokyo's desire to see the peace process move forward and comes on the heels of a pledge made in January to provide $60 million to the Palestinian Authority.
That aid brought Tokyo's total to $90 million for fiscal 2004, which ended March 31.
Tokyo will provide the new $100 million to help build infrastructure, including housing and roads, to encourage the Palestinians to coordinate with Israel over its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, a Japanese official said.
The official who briefed reporters hinted the aid will serve as a "carrot" to facilitate the peace process.
"The extent that this aid will be needed will depend on the speed of the peace process," the official explained. "If the security situation (in the Gaza Strip) worsens, the aid will not be disbursed as expected."
In the mid- to long-term, Japan will use the aid to build up such fields as agriculture, tourism and infrastructure, to help the Palestinian Authority become financially independent, the official added.
The aid is seen as an attempt to show the world that Japan, as a respectable member of the international community, supports the peace process amid increasing expectations that it may bear fruit.
After his meeting with Abbas, Koizumi said he proposed that the foreign ministers of the two governments meet in Tokyo by the end of next March.
Japan and the Palestinian Authority have held three such meetings in the past.
During a joint news conference, Abbas said he deeply appreciates Japan's financial support, saying the aid has "greatly contributed" to the Palestinian Authority's development.
"I hope Japan will make use of its political influence (to push the peace process forward), given its balanced relationship (with the nations) in the region," he said.
Abbas also invited Koizumi to visit the Palestinian Authority in the near future. The prime minister responded by saying he would like to do so at the earliest possible date.
Koizumi expressed his intention to mediate a tripartite meeting with Abbas and Israeli President Ariel Sharon to discuss the peace process.
He said he hoped to sound out Sharon when he visits Japan later this year but added no specific date for three-way talk has been set.
Japan initially tried to arrange the three-way meeting this month, but Sharon's schedule would not permit him to visit. Officials in Tokyo and Tel Aviv are currently working to bring about the trip as early as next month.
Abbas, who arrived in Tokyo on Sunday, leaves for China on Tuesday. Earlier Monday, he paid a courtesy call on Crown Prince Naruhito and also met with Sadako Ogata, head of the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
ISLAMABAD (Kyodo) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Pakistan later this week for talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on the situation in the Middle East, it was announced Monday.