Annan asks Koizumi to give air support to U.N. in Iraq

by Reiji Yoshida

Visiting U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan asked Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday to provide air support for U.N. activities in Iraq, opening the possibility that the Air Self-Defense Force will get a new mission there.

Tokyo is trying to decide when to withdraw its 600 Ground Self-Defense Force troops from the war-torn country as it struggles to establish a government.

But Japan is considering the option of keeping the ASDF unit in Kuwait to signify Japan’s continued commitment to rebuilding Iraq.

“It’s very important for the international community to stabilize Iraq and prevent it from becoming a divided country,” Annan was quoted as saying by a Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters after the meeting.

Koizumi said he has attached much importance to cooperating with the U.N. and will see what Japan can do for Annan, the official said.

Since December 2003, the ASDF has been using C-130s to help the GSDF and other foreign military forces fly between Kuwait and Iraq.

Annan also urged Koizumi during their meeting to maintain dialogue to improve its strained relations with South Korea, saying the bilateral ties are important not only to Asia, but to rest of the world.

Annan said he has the impression there is “strong sentiment” in South Korea over the souring ties with Japan, but Seoul has not yet closed the door on dialogue, the Foreign Ministry official said.

Koizumi responded that he is optimistic about Japan’s ties with South Korea and China and claimed “there is nothing to worry about them.”

“During my tenure over the past five years, exchanges of business, culture and sports have increased” with the South, Koizumi reportedly said.

Japan’s ties with South Korea and China have been particularly strained by Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, but Annan did not specifically discuss the issue, the Foreign Ministry official said.