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Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007

Ozawa rejects Schieffer antiterror overture

Staff writer

Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa turned down a U.S. request Wednesday to continue Japan's support for counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, throwing the future of a special antiterrorism law into doubt.

During a narrowly focused meeting in Tokyo with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer, Ozawa said Japan should not keep providing logistic support to the NATO-led counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan because he believes they are U.S.-centered.

The DPJ, which acquired a majority in the Upper House in last month's election, has said it intends to oppose the special antiterrorism law, which allows the Maritime Self-Defense Force to refuel warships in the Indian Ocean whose nations are engaged in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan. The law expires Nov. 1, and its extension is expected to be a key issue in the extraordinary Diet session in autumn.

In the meeting, Schieffer tried to persuade Ozawa to agree to extend the antiterrorism law. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc still holds a solid majority in the more-powerful Lower House, and thus can still vote to extend the law. But the DPJ's hold on the Upper House could stall matters beyond the Nov. 1 expiry.

"We believe that this is an opportunity for Japan to play a vital role in the international community by participating in the task force," Schieffer said, adding that Japan's security is also at risk because 90 percent of its oil is imported from the area.

Schieffer also insisted that the mission in Afghanistan, known as Operation Enduring Freedom, was authorized by the U.N. because it is mentioned in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1746, which was adopted in March.

The resolution states that the U.N. Security Council "calls upon the Afghanistan government, with the assistance of the international community including the International Security Assistance Force and Operation Enduring Freedom coalition . . . to continue to address the threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan posed by the Taliban, al-Qaida, other extremist groups and criminal activities . . . "

But Ozawa argued that the U.S.-led operation has not been directly authorized by the U.N. Security Council, unlike the ISAF, or the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. He therefore thinks Japan should not cooperate.

Schieffer and Ozawa did not see eye-to-eye on interpreting the resolution.

"I completely share (Schieffer's) view that we have to fight against terrorism or terrorists who are the perpetrators of (crimes against) peace with a resolute attitude," Ozawa said. "But how each country chooses to participate in this war against terrorism will be different in methods and measures."

Ozawa also criticized the U.S. government for "starting a war" in Afghanistan.

"As (Schieffer) may recall very well, President (George W.) Bush described this war in Afghanistan as the American war against terrorism and therefore, the U.S. started this war unilaterally without waiting for a consensus to be built in the international community," Ozawa said. He also praised Bush's father for waiting for an international consensus before liberating Kuwait from Iraq occupation in the Persian Gulf War.

After the meeting, Schieffer told reporters he thought the meeting was positive.

"I'm hopeful that Mr. Ozawa and the DPJ can reflect on these vital issues and can decide that (the extension of the antiterrorism law) is an issue that is above partisan politics in Japan, and it is one that the international community would welcome the continued support of Japan," Schieffer said.

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The Japan Times

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