• Staff report

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Visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage expressed pleasure Tuesday with a bill that would pave the way for the Self-Defense Forces to be sent to Iraq to assist in reconstruction work.

He also expressed confidence that weapons of mass destruction would be located in Iraq.

“I’m very happy to have Japan considering being able to take part in all the great efforts and great events of our day,” Armitage told reporters after a meeting with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda. “I think it’s most appropriate for Japan.”

During a separate meeting with the secretaries general of the three ruling parties, Armitage responded to queries regarding security and other elements of the current situation in Iraq, which are seen as issues that are likely to have a major impact on Diet deliberations on the SDF dispatch legislation.

The government presented the outline of the new bill to the ruling parties on Monday, and aims to submit it to the Diet after securing Cabinet approval on Friday.

According to Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taku Yamasaki, Armitage admitted the security situation is still unstable in central Iraq, which includes Baghdad, and southern areas, where the Shiite and Sunni Muslims are in confrontation.

Stability is seen as a key element in considering any SDF mission to Iraq, as the proposed law stipulates that the SDF would operate only in “noncombat zones.”

Armitage was quoted as saying that in general, the situation in Iraq was similar to that in Cambodia, where the SDF served from September 1992 as part of a U.N.-led peacekeeping operation.

Armitage underlined his confidence that biological and chemical weapons will eventually be discovered in Iraq.

He said the U.S. has captured a number of people who are believed to have been engaged in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, although they have been giving what he described as “false testimony” so far, according to Yamasaki.

After his meeting with Fukuda, Armitage compared Japan’s participation in the reconstruction of Iraq to a baseball game, saying the United States wants to see Japan sending players onto the field and not just turning up to watch — an apparent reference to Japan’s huge financial, but no physical, contribution during the 1991 Gulf War.

“I’ve long suggested that it’s most appropriate for Japan to take a place on the playing field,” said Armitage, who has on a number of occasions urged Japanese officials to send SDF personnel to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq.

“It’s not necessary to be the pitcher or the catcher and be involved in every single play of the game, but you can’t play at all unless you are on the baseball diamond,” he said. “I’m hoping that the nation will decide to get out of the stands and onto the playing field.”

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