Japan to let U.S. omit verification of fuel usage

Kyodo News

Japan and the United States will exchange a document about the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s contentious refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that will omit provisions allowing Tokyo to confirm how the fuel is used, sources close to Japan-U.S. relations said Saturday.

The United States has rejected a request from Japan to include fuel-use verification steps in the document, saying that it would affect U.S. operations and be a burden on the troops involved, the sources said.

Japan and the United States are preparing to exchange the document later this month, given that the MSDF getting ready to resume the mission in mid-February. The refueling mission supports U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.

Tokyo made the request after the government came under fire over allegations that the fuel the MSDF was giving to the U.S. Navy under the 2001 special law on logistic support for antiterror efforts in Afghanistan may in fact have been diverted to the war in Iraq, which began in 2003.

The United States has made concessions and has basically agreed that the document will refer to the purpose of Japan’s new antiterrorism law, which was enacted Jan. 11 to authorize the resumption of the refueling mission after it was halted in November.

The law limits the MSDF’s operations to the provision of fuel and water to foreign vessels engaged in operations to interdict terrorist activities at sea.

But if the document does not contain a provision allowing Japan to confirm how the fuel is used, the government is likely to face criticism that it will be unable to effectively restrict how the fuel is being used.

According to the sources, foreign and defense officials of the two countries started holding discussions on the matter in October when the Japanese government submitted a bill to continue the refueling mission.

Japan terminated the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean on Nov. 1 when the special law expired.