Abe stakes his job on extension of refueling mission

by May Masangkay

Kyodo

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated Sunday that he is ready to resign if he fails to get Parliament to extend Japan’s refueling mission in the Indian Ocean for U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, stressing that its extension has become an “international commitment” he needs to fulfill by “all possible” means.

“I have no intention of clinging to my duties” as prime minister if the mission is not extended beyond the Nov. 1 legal deadline, Abe said in a news conference after the weekend summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Sydney.

His remark comes a day before a parliamentary showdown begins over the issue between the ruling coalition and opposition parties led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which effectively controls the House of Councillors and is opposed to an extension. An extraordinary Diet session convenes Monday.

Abe called for talks with DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa “as soon as possible,” noting that he intends to “stake my job and deal with the issue so as to obtain the understanding of the opposition parties led by the DPJ.”

While acknowledging the Diet faces “a tough situation,” Abe said, “Now that it has become an international commitment, it is my big responsibility. All possible efforts must be made to continue the Self-Defense Forces’ activities.”

Abe is expected to face resistance from the opposition camp to extend the antiterrorism law that authorizes the dispatch of Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels to provide refueling support for the antiterrorism operations.

Saying that the mission has huge support from the international community, Abe stressed the international nature of Japan’s commitment to the U.S.-led operations in the context of the global fight against terrorism.

Abe’s remarks come a day after he gave assurances of his commitments on the extension to U.S. President George W. Bush and APEC host Australian Prime Minister John Howard during their meetings on the sidelines of the APEC summit.

Attention is being focused on whether the Abe administration will submit a bill to extend the current law which is likely to be killed by the opposition or propose a new law to continue the refueling mission.

Abe said his government will submit a bill in the extraordinary Diet session, but stopped short of specifying details.

But speaking to reporters on Saturday, Abe said he will examine various options including a new law to replace the current antiterrorism law as one option to resolve the standoff.

DPJ President Ozawa has repeatedly expressed his intention to block an extension, even during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer after the July 29 upper house election in which the DPJ became the largest party and the opposition camp gained a majority in the chamber.

Ozawa maintains the U.S.-led operations have no U.N. mandate, but fellow lawmakers are not on a same ground as some senior members have expressed support for the refueling mission. The party is expected to submit its own bill to support international operations in Afghanistan mainly through humanitarian aid.

The current law was enacted following the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, as a special two-year law. It has been extended three times to continue the MSDF deployment in the Indian Ocean.

“We should not forget the 24 Japanese nationals who lost their lives in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” Abe said. “We must not tolerate terrorism.”

The government and the ruling coalition parties have reportedly been mulling a new law that focuses on the refueling mission, unlike the current law that includes other operations such as enabling the Air Self-Defense Force to conduct airlifts between U.S. bases inside and outside Japan.