Koizumi suggests Japan will join multinational force in Iraq

Kyodo

Japan will keep its Self-Defense Force troops deployed in Iraq under the just-endorsed United Nations Security Council resolution, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday.

Koizumi’s statement effectively means Japan will participate in humanitarian operations under the multinational force to be formed under the new resolution on Iraq’s future.

A senior U.S. official quoted Koizumi as telling Bush that Japan would make a formal decision on this participation next week.

Koizumi also raised the sensitive issue of Charles Robert Jenkins, an alleged U.S. Army deserter now living in North Korea, according to Japanese and U.S. officials who briefed reporters.

Jenkins has refused to come to Japan for a reunion with his Japanese wife, Hitomi Soga, a former abductee to the reclusive state, because he fears that he could be extradited to the U.S. and court-martialed.

Bush expressed “sympathy” over the couple’s situation before reiterating the U.S. position that Jenkins is a deserter wanted by the U.S. Army, the U.S. official said.

The two leaders met over lunch before the start of the Group of Eight summit on Sea Island, Ga., where Iraq’s reconstruction and reform plans for the Middle East and North Africa are expected to dominate the agenda.

Koizumi was quoted as saying during the meeting, “Japan is ready to offer the maximum help to Iraq through the combination of deployment of the Self-Defense Forces and the launch of fresh official development assistance.”

The U.N. resolution, proposed by Washington and London, represents “a victory for the cause of the United States,” and Japan will continue its deployment of SDF troops in Iraq in a manner that will be welcomed by the Iraqi interim government, Koizumi was quoted as telling Bush.

Koizumi’s pledge on the continued SDF deployment was taken as a de facto announcement of Tokyo’s plan to participate in the multinational force, although the prime minister did not explicitly mention the plan.

“Japan was preparing to continue its deployment of Self-Defense Forces based on the new resolution and based on a decision to be made in Tokyo sometime next week,” the U.S. official told reporters in a briefing.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution the same the day, endorsing the June 30 transfer of power to the Iraqi people and authorizing the multinational force to stay in Iraq to help maintain security.

On the Jenkins case, Koizumi was quoted as telling Bush that Soga “wants to live with her family in Japan.”

Soga is one of five Japanese who were abducted to North Korea in 1978 before returning to Japan in 2002. Soga and Jenkins have two daughters who also live in North Korea.

Last month, Koizumi brought to Japan the North Korean-born children of four other repatriated abductees. But Jenkins reportedly wanted a guarantee from the United States that he would not be arrested as a deserter before he would agree to travel to Japan.

Koizumi did not explicitly request that Bush pardon Jenkins or give him any special consideration, the Japanese and U.S. officials said.

“The president expressed real sympathy for this situation and an understanding of why the Japanese public and why the prime minister want to do everything they can to help find a humanitarian answer to this real puzzle,” the U.S. official said.

“The president explained to the prime minister that Sgt. Jenkins deserted from the U.S. Army in 1965 and still technically, the U.S. Army wants him on four different charges,” the official told reporters.

“There was no conclusion. They agreed to keep in close touch on this.”

Bush also told Koizumi that he sees the six-nation talks to deal with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions as a key forum for solving the problem.

He said Washington “strongly supports” Japan’s efforts to solve the abduction issue with Pyongyang.

Koizumi quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as saying during their May 22 meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea is anxious to have direct talks with Washington over security issues. Bush said he plans to settle the matter within the six-way framework.

Koizumi and Bush agreed to keep in close consultation on reducing the concentration of U.S. bases in Okinawa Prefecture without undermining Washington’s military capability in the Asia-Pacific region, the Japanese official said.