Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked U.S. President Barack Obama to postpone the planned revision of bilateral defense cooperation guidelines from the originally set year-end deadline until next spring and obtained his approval when the two met at the Group of 20 summit in Australia in mid-November, several diplomatic sources said Sunday.
Abe made the request to Obama during their talks on Nov. 16 in Brisbane on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting, as he hoped to prevent the controversial security issue from influencing nationwide local elections slated for April, the sources said.
Officials of the two countries are now arranging for the first revision of the guidelines in 17 years to take place in early May at the earliest, they said. The guidelines specify the roles of the Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military.
Abe told Obama he was “sorry” for the delay in revising the guidelines, the diplomatic sources said. The two countries have not released the details of exchanges between the two leaders on the matter.
Ahead of the Japan-U.S. summit, senior U.S. officials basically approved in October a request from Japan to postpone the defense guideline revision, assuming the Abe government will likely remain in power for a long time, according to a U.S. government source.
Abe began considering putting off the revision around August, according to government sources. Upon returning from Australia, Abe dissolved the House of Representatives on Nov. 21 and called a snap election, which will be held Dec. 14.
According to an interim report on the guideline revision the two countries compiled in October, Japan and the United States aim to expand the scope of cooperation between their armed forces by removing existing geographical limits, and ensure a “seamless” response amid the changing security environment.
The report said the updated guidelines will reflect Japan’s recent reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution to remove its self-imposed ban on the exercise of the right to collective self-defense.
However, Komeito, the junior coalition partner of Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, remains cautious about the expansion of SDF roles. The prime minister aims to revise existing national security laws next year to reflect the change in the constitutional interpretation.
In the latest Kyodo News poll released Saturday, 53.3 percent of respondents did not support Abe’s security policy, including reinterpreting the Constitution to allow Japan to defend allies under armed attack even if the country itself is not threatened.