Gates hears Komura vow to get MSDF bill passed

by Kaho Shimizu

Japan will make “utmost efforts” to resume its logistic support for the U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday.

Gates’ visit to Tokyo comes a week after the special law on antiterrorism cooperation expired Nov. 1, forcing Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba to withdraw two Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels from the Indian Ocean, where they were refueling coalition ships taking part in the multinational mission.

Gates also met later in the day with Ishiba, who told a joint news conference with the Pentagon chief that resumption of the MSDF mission “serves Japan’s national interests and is (Japan’s) responsibility for the international community.”

“If the suspension of the mission is prolonged, Japan may be seen as a country being reluctant to contribute to the war on terror,” Ishiba said, adding that he told Gates that the government is trying to get new legislation passed to resume the mission as quickly as possible.

The Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc is hoping to get a new antiterror bill approved by the Lower House as early as next week. But it is unclear how soon full Diet endorsement can be obtained, given the opposition’s control of the Upper House.

In the news conference, Gates said the U.S. is “deeply grateful for Japan’s refueling contribution.”

He added that it’s important to remember that this is not a bilateral matter but rather a matter of Japan’s contribution to the international coalition.

Gates told reporters in Washington last week that he hoped Japan would be back in the Indian Ocean within a few weeks.

Komura and Gates opened their talks by reaffirming the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance. Komura said Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s upcoming trip to the United States — his first overseas tour since he took office in September — underlines his dedication to bilateral ties.

Komura also asked the U.S. not to remove North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsoring states, again citing Pyongyang’s kidnappings of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s.