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The U.S. Defense Department has asked Japan to send Air Self-Defense Force C-130 transport planes to Iraq and to take part in ground transportation and escort services there, according to sources.

The sources said Richard Lawless, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia and the Pacific, made the request during a working-level meeting in Tokyo on June 11, two days before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi submitted a bill to enable the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq.

The Defense Agency plans to send six C-130s to Iraq in response to the U.S. request.

While Koizumi has stressed that Japan will make its own decision on the issue, the request by Lawless shows that Japan’s decision was apparently prompted by the U.S.

Japan plans to send the SDF to Iraq “not at the request of countries such as the United States and Britain, but on our own initiative based on U.N. Security Council resolution 1483,” Koizumi told the Lower House on Tuesday.

Lawless asked Tokyo to dispatch as many C-130s as it can to Iraq because there is a need for air transport.

He stressed the need to make Baghdad International Airport a hub and to bring relief aid such as food and medical goods from countries in the region using the C-130s.

He also asked Japan to send Ground Self-Defense Force personnel to transport the relief aid from the airport to U.S. troops and Iraqis in Baghdad and other cities.

He said escort services for such planes and ASDF personnel providing logistic support will also be necessary.

Overseas activities by the SDF including use of arms are strictly limited under the Constitution, which renounces war and the threat or use of force to settle international disputes.

Under existing legislation, Tokyo is already planning to assign two C-130s in July to Jordan, to transport relief aid from Italy to that nation.

No Okinawa pullout

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific and a senior Pentagon official ruled out on Thursday a big realignment of U.S. troops in Okinawa.

The U.S. forces in Okinawa “are absolutely central to our planning and our ability to meet our security concerns in the Pacific,” Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific command, said in congressional testimony.

Assistant Defense Secretary for International Security Affairs Peter Rodman told the same hearing that the U.S. and the Japanese government are looking at “small adjustments” in the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, home to the bulk of the 47,000 U.S. troops deployed to Japan.

“We don’t expect to leave there. I think we’re talking about small adjustments,” Rodman told the House of Representatives East Asia and Pacific Subcommittee.

On other defense matters, Rodman said the U.S. hopes Japan will make a formal decision at an early date to push forward the bilateral missile defense initiative.

Christopher LaFleur, the State Department official in charge of Northeast Asia security issues, expressed hope that the Diet will approve sending Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq.

“The Japanese government’s decision to introduce legislation to promote greater participation by Japan in Iraq efforts . . . would constitute, if approved by the Diet, an important change in Japan’s policy,” LaFleur said.

“This is certainly encouraging from our point of view,” he said.

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