• Kyodo

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Palestinian President Yasser Arafat met with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Saturday night and expressed his expectation for Japan to take a key role in a planned international conference on peace in the Middle East, Japanese officials said.

Arafat called Japan the most important donor nation and said it should also become a member of the committee for a meeting proposed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, the officials said.

Japan is a major aid donor to the Palestinians, along with the EU and the U.S.

Kawaguchi told Arafat, “I want you to talk about it with other nations,” suggesting a positive response on the part of Japan, according to the officials.

Arafat told Kawaguchi that he will name a new Cabinet and reorganize the Palestinian security organization in the coming days.

The officials quoted Arafat as telling Kawaguchi the Palestinian Authority is considering financial reforms and has also made legal changes to allow Palestinian women to seek divorce.

But Arafat stopped short of referring to the specifics of the financial reforms, the officials said.

The Palestinian leader also asked Kawaguchi to convey the message to Group of Eight foreign ministers that he wants the G8 nations to take action to implement agreements on halting violence, establishing confidence-building and resuming peace talks.

The G8 foreign ministers meet in Canada on Wednesday and Thursday to set the tone for the G8 summit meeting to be held in Canada on June 26-27.

Kawaguchi met with Arafat after arriving in Israel on Saturday morning on a mission to urge the Palestinians and Israelis to end the cycle of violence and return to the negotiating table.

Kawaguchi proposed a four-stage “road map” for support to the Palestinians during her talks with Palestinian officials.

The plan proposes emergency humanitarian aid, including repairs to lifeline infrastructure; support for peace building and conflict prevention programs; aid for reconstruction for economic self-reliance and support for developing a new Palestinian state, the officials said.

In the meetings, Kawaguchi also relayed Japan’s intention to accept 75 Palestinians for training in administrative, judicial and legislative affairs, the officials said.

In addition, Kawaguchi offered to send a research mission to provide technology transfers as she met with Palestinian Legislative Council Speaker Ahmad Qrei, Planning and International Cooperation Minister Nabil Shaath of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, they said.

She also noted Japan’s intention to support the Palestinian Authority’s reform efforts by providing financial support and monitors for a general election, according to the officials.

“It is important to enhance the Palestinians’ administrative capability, and Japan can do it to bring about a bright future for the Palestinian people,” Kawaguchi told reporters after meeting with Shaath.

Kawaguchi also held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at Ben Gurion airport Saturday night in the suburbs of Tel Aviv.

However, Sharon did not express a positive stance on the planned international meeting, though he showed understanding for Japan’s involvement in the process, the officials said.

Kawaguchi called on Sharon to pull Israeli troops from the West Bank and was quoted by the officials as telling him, “The vicious circle of violence should be stopped.”

The Israeli prime minister, however, denied the existence of a vicious circle of violence and said Israel is only exercising its self-defense right, according to the officials.

Sharon also expressed a strong distrust of Arafat, saying the Palestinian leader stands behind terrorism, protects it and fails to try to take preventive measures, they said.

On Sunday, Kawaguchi will meet Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and will ask Israel to exercise maximum restraint in its relations with the Palestinians, said the officials.

Kawaguchi is scheduled to return to Japan on Monday and then head to Canada on Tuesday to attend the G8 foreign ministers’ meeting, at which the Middle East situation is expected to be a major discussion topic.

The last Japanese foreign minister to visit Israel and the Palestinian areas was Masahiko Komura in January 1999.

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