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MSDF mission facing ‘challenge’

Extending law won't be easy, Machimura tells Rice

by Reiji Yoshida

The coming political battle on whether to extend the special antiterrorism law on logistic support for multinational forces in Afghanistan is a major challenge for the Foreign Ministry, according to Nobutaka Machimura.

The newly appointed foreign minister said that’s the message he delivered to his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a telephone conference Tuesday to renew the government’s commitment to extend the law.

“We didn’t talk about details because it was a telephone conference. But yes, I told her that extension of the special antiterrorism law is a major challenge,” Machimura said in an interview.

A former trade ministry bureaucrat, Machimura is a veteran Diet member who served as foreign minister from September 2004 to October 2005.

Appointed in Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle, Machimura argued that Japan has an obligation to provide fuel for the NATO-led operation as “a responsible member of international society.”

“We believe this oil-supply activity is very effective” in supporting the antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan, Machimura said.

Under the support mission, the Maritime Self-Defense Force has been dispatching supply ships escorted by destroyers to the Indian Ocean since November 2001.

But the Democratic Party of Japan, which became the No. 1 party in the Upper House in the July 29 election, has opposed extending the law beyond its Nov. 1 expiration, saying the U.S. waged the war in Afghanistan without building an international consensus.

The current law requires Diet consent after vessels are dispatched. As a compromise, some ruling-bloc lawmakers have floated revising the law to require advance Diet consent. The DPJ once demanded such a revision as a condition to supporting its extension.

But Machimura played down this idea, saying the DPJ could eventually refuse to approve the Indian Ocean operation when the government seeks advance consent. The DPJ-led opposition bloc now has a combined majority in the Upper House.

In reshuffling his Cabinet, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tapped the heads of five ruling party factions as ministers or Liberal Democratic Party executives to prop up his administration after the historic loss in the Upper House election.

Machimura is the head of the largest LDP faction.

“I don’t think I was chosen as (foreign minister) just because I am the head of a faction,” Machimura told a news conference Monday night, his first meeting with reporters after his appointment.

Machimura added he will not visit Yasukuni Shrine, a source of diplomatic rows with China and South Korea, while he is foreign minister.

Peru quake victim aid

The government said Wednesday it will provide emergency aid worth $1.3 million to help victims of a powerful earthquake that struck Peru’s coast on Aug. 15, the Foreign Ministry said.

The aid will be used for makeshift shelters, makeshift toilets and water tanks.

The magnitude-8.0 quake killed more than 500 people.