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Friday, Jan. 12, 2007

Aso gives backing to latest U.S. plan for Iraq

Staff writer

In immediate response to Washington's announcement of a new operational policy to deploy another 20,000 troops to Iraq, Japan expressed support Thursday for the U.S. decision and renewed Tokyo's commitment "to closely consult and cooperate" with the U.S.

"We appreciate (the new policy) as another effort for the U.S. government to stabilize Iraq," Foreign Minister Taro Aso said in a written statement released after U.S. President George W. Bush revealed the new plan in a televised speech.

Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference the same day, "We highly evaluate the revised U.S. strategy in Iraq, as we understand it (to be) a further effort to bring about the peace and stability in Iraq."

A senior Foreign Ministry official said Tokyo will probably extend the Air Self-Defense Force operations in Iraq beyond the end of July, when a special 2003 law to dispatch Japanese forces to Iraq expires.

"Japan has no choice but to go together with the U.S. We will extend (the operation)," said the official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.

"We cannot say we will withdraw (the ASDF unit) when the U.S. is about to increase the number of troops," the official said.

Under the new plan, the U.S. intends to transfer responsibility for the country's security to the Iraqi government by November.

"I think it's difficult for the U.S. (to transfer the security authority) by November, though you don't know how the situation will be," the official said.

The official did not mention how long the government hopes to extend the special law. The Diet has the final say on whether to revise the law and extend the Iraq mission for the Self-Defense Forces.

Japan has dispatched an ASDF transport unit of C-130H transport airplanes to engage in airlift missions between Iraq and Kuwait for the U.S.-centered multinational forces and United Nations workers.

The unit was dispatched based on the 2003 Iraq mission law.

Based on the law, Tokyo also stationed about 600 Ground Self-Defense Force troops from January 2004 to June 2006 in Samawah in southern Iraq to carry out humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

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The Japan Times

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