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In Egypt, Abe pledges support for Mideast countries battling Islamic State jihadis

Reuters, JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned on Saturday that the world would suffer an “immeasurable loss” if terrorism spreads in the Middle East and pledged about $200 million in nonmilitary assistance for countries battling the Islamic State jihadi group.

The threat of Islamist militancy has come into sharp focus outside the Middle East after gunmen killed 17 people in three days of violence in Paris that began on Jan. 7 with an attack on the offices of a newspaper that had published satirical images of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Islamic State group, which controls large parts of OPEC oil producer Iraq and neighboring Syria, has declared an Islamic caliphate and wants to redraw the map of a region vital for Japan’s energy needs.

“It goes without saying that the stability of the Middle East is the foundation for peace and prosperity for the world, and of course for Japan,” Abe said in Cairo in the first leg of a regional tour. “Should we leave terrorism or weapons of mass destruction to spread in this region, the loss imparted upon the international community would be immeasurable.”

Highlighting his concern, Abe told a meeting of the Japan-Egypt Business Committee that his administration would provide nonmilitary financial backing for countries fighting the al-Qaida breakaway group, which is also referred to as ISIL.

“I will pledge assistance of a total of about $200 million for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on,” said Abe.

Stability has remained elusive in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings toppled veteran autocrats and raised hopes of democracy and economic prosperity.

“There is no shortcut to nipping violence in the bud. There is no way other than bringing stability to people’s livelihoods and fostering a middle class, even if it takes time,” Abe said.

In addition to the $2.2 billion in assistance Japan pledged for the Middle East two years ago, Abe said his government would provide another $2.5 billion in nonmilitary assistance in fields such as humanitarian assistance and infrastructure.

“The Middle East . . . that’s the region endowed with great possibilities,” said Abe, whose tour will also include Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Turkey. “And yet now it appears to be no exaggeration to say that the region is exposed to a challenge that is among the most serious in its modern history.”

He stressed the need for economic growth in the Middle East, where militants often try to exploit frustrations with issues such as unemployment and neglected schools to gain recruits. Security crackdowns alone have failed to defeat militancy in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, and other states as well.

Japan will provide Egypt with $360 million in loans for projects including an airport and a power grid in a country suffering from an energy crisis, Abe said. “These are intended to contribute to Egypt’s development, and by extension, to widening the foundation for stability across the entire region,” he added.

Aside from tackling the Islamic State group, regional and Western leaders also face the daunting task of securing serious progress on the Israeli and Palestinian front.

“Japan believes that the day will come in the near future when we can recognise Palestine as a state,” said Abe. “In order for that day to arrive sooner, we will appeal to both Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations to advance the so-called two-state solution.”

Abe reiterated Japan’s readiness to support the global fight against terrorism during a meeting later in the day with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Extremism across the globe needs to be brought under control, Abe said, referring to the Islamic State group and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Egypt will respond appropriately to the Islamic State threat because it is a matter of national security for the country, el-Sissi said.

Abe and el-Sissi agreed that their two countries will consider starting regular meetings of foreign policy and defense officials to beef up bilateral security relations. The two leaders also agreed that stronger economic cooperation between the countries will help enhance bilateral relations.

Abe meanwhile invited el-Sissi to visit Japan this year.