The Cabinet on Tuesday approved a six-month extension of Japan’s logistic support for antiterror operations led by the United States.

In line with the support, which involves several nations, the government will dispatch an amphibious vessel to transport Thai forces to Qatar. Equipment such as bulldozers will also be moved from Thailand, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

This is to be a single operation carried out between Dec. 31 and March 31.

The term of support provided by Japan, having already been extended once in May, ended Tuesday. Under the latest extension, the support will now run through May 19.

Initial efforts, including the deployment of Maritime Self-Defense Force ships in the Indian Ocean, have been in place since last November, after the U.S. launched its bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

Shigeru Ishiba, director general of the Defense Agency, said, “Many (terrorists allegedly involved in the Sept. 11 attacks) still remain in Afghanistan, and they attempt to cross borders.”

He added that Japan must maintain its support as long as terrorists pose a threat to Japan and the international community.

Ishiba stressed, however, that the activities of the Self-Defense Forces remain within the scope of the special antiterrorism law and that the SDF will not support an anticipated military campaign by U.S.-led forces against Iraq.

As of Monday, the MSDF said, it had provided U.S. and British vessels with 234,000 kiloliters of fuel worth some 85 billion yen.

Meanwhile, the dispatch of a destroyer equipped with the advanced Aegis air-defense system was shelved for future debate, Fukuda said.

The U.S.-developed Aegis system is described as a total weapons system with the ability to detect and simultaneously track more than 100 targets and coordinate missile attacks on these targets.

Although the U.S. has pursued the dispatch of an Aegis-equipped destroyer, ruling coalition partner New Komeito has been opposed.

Envoys set for Mideast

Japan will dispatch envoys to six countries near Iraq to ask them to urge Baghdad to cooperate with U.N. inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday.

“We plan to dispatch them to nearby countries, not to Iraq,” Koizumi told reporters at his office.

The envoys, including former foreign ministers, will be sent with letters from Koizumi to Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey, possibly next week, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kosei Ueno said later in the day.

Former Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama will travel to Iran, Masahiko Komura, another former foreign minister, will visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi will go to Syria, Jordan and Turkey, Ueno said.

Japan earlier considered sending an envoy to Iraq as well, but decided against it as doing so could be construed as “conciliatory” toward the country, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda also hinted it may be better to leave out Iraq as a destination.

“There are both pluses and minuses in going to Iraq,” the top government spokesman told reporters. “We should not get in the way of the inspections and we should not be used by Iraq either.”

The government is apparently hoping the envoys will show Japan’s commitment to helping in diplomatic efforts to urge Iraq to fully cooperate with the U.N. arms inspectors, whose advance team arrived in Baghdad on Monday.

The first group of U.N. weapons inspectors returned to the Iraqi capital after a four-year absence. Their arrival Monday came five days after Iraq accepted a U.N. Security Council resolution that requires it to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and warns of “serious consequences” unless Iraq fulfills its obligations.

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