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Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2007

MSDF duty over, Ozawa tells Fukuda

DPJ chief won't budge on bill, will talk again

Staff writer

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda failed Tuesday to persuade opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa to agree on a new antiterrorism bill to enable the Maritime Self-Defense Force to continue refueling multinational naval ships in the Indian Ocean.

News photo
The Maritime Self-Defense Force vessel Tokiwa (right) supplies fuel to a Pakistani destroyer in the Indian Ocean on Monday. It was the last refueling Japan will perform under the antiterrorism law that expires Thursday. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MARITIME SELF-DEFENSE FORCE/KYODO

The two did agree, however, to hold another closed meeting this week, probably Friday.

With the special law enabling the MSDF to provide logistic support to the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom-Maritime Interdiction Operation set to expire at midnight Thursday, Fukuda sought to gain an agreement from Ozawa, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, to continue the mission.

"Unfortunately, we did not reach an agreement," Fukuda said after the meeting, which was initially scheduled to last two hours but ended after about 60 minutes.

Fukuda said he thought it was "good" that the two leaders shared a desire to break the political deadlock over the bill, which the DPJ-led opposition camp is against.

"A situation in which the Lower and Upper houses may come up with different decisions . . . this is what I have to fret over most, but I believe DPJ leader Ozawa also has a similar stance," Fukuda said. "So I think it is important that the two of us talk."

Fukuda, head of the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc, said he did not raise the possibility of calling a snap election with Ozawa but they did discuss the current political situation.

Ozawa has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the special bill, which was submitted to the Diet on Oct. 17 to replace the current antiterrorism law.

"I told (Fukuda) that I will cooperate (on issues) that I can cooperate on" with the ruling bloc, Ozawa said. "But naturally, (I said) that we cannot accept the new antiterrorism bill."

The ruling bloc has been desperately seeking a continuation of the MSDF mission, but it faces a divided Diet. The coalition holds a majority in the Lower House while the opposition parties led by the DPJ control the Upper House.

The mission effectively ended Monday with the refueling of a Pakistani destroyer in the Arabian Sea.

The new bill would limit the MSDF activities to only providing fuel and water to multinational naval ships and would be valid for one year. It would also leave room for an extension.

Ozawa said such activities are unconstitutional because the U.S.-led OEF-MIO is not officially authorized by the United Nations, although it has been U.N.-endorsed.

"I reiterated my position that the Self-Defense Forces can only be dispatched within the framework of U.N. activities," Ozawa said. "Our discussion ran parallel" to each other's opinions.

Since Fukuda became prime minister in September, he has taken a low-key approach toward the opposition.

Unlike his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, who rammed various bills through the Diet, Fukuda has been promoting thorough discussions with the opposition parties.

The meeting between the two party leaders was initiated by Fukuda on Monday.

"I think that Fukuda at least understood that Ozawa's principles and fundamental rules cannot be changed," Kenji Yamaoka, the Diet affairs chief of the DPJ, said after the meeting.

Fukuda "may have thought that (he) could somehow (persuade Ozawa), but that isn't so," he added.

Fukuda and Ozawa were also set to hold an open one-on-one debate Wednesday in the Diet, but this was postponed. Instead, the two will hold talks again later this week.

The talks "are still only midway," Yamaoka said. "I think (the two leaders) need to hold thorough discussions and confirm the other's opinion" before facing each other in the Diet.

Information from Kyodo added

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The Japan Times

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