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Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2007

Ozawa's Afghan gambit rejected

No joining NATO force in combat zone: Machimura

Staff writer

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura on Tuesday rejected Democratic Party of Japan President Ichiro Ozawa's suggestion that Japan participate in NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

News photo
Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura huddle Tuesday during a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. AP PHOTO

Afghanistan is "a very dangerous area and can be called a combat zone," Machimura said during a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee.

"Based on the Constitution (which prohibits the use of force), we cannot support" Ozawa's opinion that Japan should participate in ISAF activities, he said.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito have been desperate to extend the special antiterrorism law that allows the Maritime Self-Defense Force to refuel multinational ships in the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation. The special law expires Nov. 1.

Ozawa has repeatedly vowed to lead the opposition in blocking the law, arguing the U.S.-led OEF-MIO is not officially authorized by the United Nations and therefore cannot be supported by Japan because it violates the Constitution.

Instead, Ozawa has been suggesting that Japan participate in the ISAF's activities, which were officially endorsed by a U.N. Security Council resolution in 2001. He has argued that participating in a U.N.-authorized military operation would not violate the Constitution, even if it involves the use of force.

However, according to the government's official view, directly supporting the use of force by other countries violates the war-renouncing Constitution. The special antiterrorism law therefore limits the SDF's activities only to logistic support in noncombat zones, as Machimura pointed out.

Article 9 renounces "war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."

"What I am saying is that it won't go against the Constitution if Japan participates in the ISAF or anything authorized as the U.N.'s peace activities," Ozawa wrote in the latest issue of Sekai, which went on sale Tuesday. "If I gain control of political power and enter a position to determine (Japan's) policies on diplomacy and security, I would like to realize (Japan's) participation in ISAF" activities.

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba jumped into the fray during the budget committee session, which was attended by the entire Cabinet, stating, "The government's stance is that (Japan) is not allowed to join the ISAF under the Constitution."

He also apologized for having to correct the amount of fuel Japan gave to a U.S. tanker in the Arabian Sea before the 2003 U.S. attack on Iraq. The incorrect figure, about 200,000 gallons, was announced by the Defense Ministry but later corrected to about 800,000 gallons.

Ishiba said it was a "clerical mistake" and that punishment may be imposed over the error.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said the MSDF's refueling activities do not violate the Constitution because there is no use of force and the area where the activities are taking place is not a "a combat zone."

The mission "is also necessary as a means to protect our country's security," he said.

With little possibility of extending the antiterrorism law, the government and the ruling bloc are preparing to submit a bill during the extraordinary Diet session for a new law. The current law ends Nov. 10.

The bill would limit the MSDF's activities to providing only fuel and water to multinational naval ships operating in the Indian Ocean, and would be valid for two years.

Information from Kyodo added

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