Kawaguchi voices hope for Mideast ‘road map’

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi expressed hope Wednesday that a new “road map” presented by the United States will bolster the Middle East peace process.

“The Palestinians said they will accept it, and if it moves forward with Israel’s acceptance, there will be a big change,” Kawaguchi told reporters in Damascus on the fourth and final leg of her eight-day Middle Eastern tour.

“Things remain tough ahead and will not be easy,” she said. “But it’s important for both sides to continue negotiations tenaciously, and related parties must cooperate.”

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kosei Ueno said Thursday in Tokyo that Japan wants Israel and the Palestinians to move quickly toward peace, which “is also an important issue regarding the reconstruction of Iraq.”

Before the U.S. presented the peace plan Wednesday shortly after the inauguration of the Palestinian Cabinet under Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Kawaguchi visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to urge leaders to restart the peace process based on the road map.

Earlier Wednesday, Kawaguchi called on Syria to improve its relations with the United States during her talks with President Bashar Assad.

The Syrian president stopped short of replying to Kawaguchi’s request, but Foreign Minister Farouk Shara later told her that Syria intends to clarify its position, which he said has been misunderstood by the U.S., Japanese officials said.

The U.S. has recently stepped up pressure on Syria and warned it may consider taking sanctions against Damascus for allegedly providing protection for fugitive Iraqi leaders, supporting terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction.

During their meeting at Assad’s palace, Kawaguchi said it “would be very good for Syria and the U.S. to have a dialogue” when Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Damascus in early May.

“Straightforward talks are important,” Kawaguchi was quoted as saying.

On nuclear weapons, Kawaguchi urged Syria to join the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but Assad said that while his country is a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it cannot join the CTBT because Israel has failed to respond to its efforts, the officials said.

Kawaguchi said Tokyo is willing to contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East, and asked Damascus to help the process by “addressing extremist groups within Syria.”

Japan plans to continue efforts to bring about a “comprehensive peace process” in the region, including dealing with issues between Syria and Israel concerning the Golan Heights, Kawaguchi told Prime Minister Mohamad Mustafa Miro in a separate meeting.

The Self-Defense Forces will continue to provide support in the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force, which monitors and supervises the disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, Kawaguchi separately told the UNDOF commander, Maj. Gen. Bo Wranker.