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Japan plans to open talks with Syrian opposition

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday will unveil plans at the Syria peace talks in Switzerland to open a dialogue with the Syrian opposition on bringing the civil war, now in its third year, to a quick conclusion, sources in the Japanese government said Sunday.

Kishida’s speech, to be delivered at the international peace conference, will be part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to sell his “proactive pacifism” campaign, the banner under which Japan envisions a greater international role for its constitutionally limited military.

Japan has been in contact with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the most influential of the opposition groups battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but no substantive talks have taken place so far.

In his speech, Kishida is expected to call for stronger dialogue with the so-called Syrian National Coalition and convey Tokyo’s desire to cooperate fully with the group in establishing a new government to replace Assad’s regime, the sources said.

But the foreign minister also plans to urge the opposition forces to stop attacking the Assad government, while at the same time demanding that Assad reach a cease-fire agreement with the opposition, the sources said.

By throwing its support behind the group, also backed by the United States, and promoting the establishment of a new government in Syria, Tokyo is apparently hoping to forge stronger ties with Washington.

Kishida is also expected to pledge roughly $120 million in additional aid to help Syrian refugees, including those in neighboring Jordan and Lebanon.

Japan has so far pledged aid worth $280 million to the refugees, mainly for food and medicine. The top donors are the United States, Britain and Germany.