The government should pursue a more flexible interpretation of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 and allow the Self-Defense Forces to make a greater contribution to global peacekeeping efforts, according to Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi.

“I think we should continue to place importance on Article 9. But perhaps there are other ways to interpret it,” Kawaguchi told journalists shortly after her reappointment Monday.

At present, SDF dispatches overseas are limited.

Under a new antiterrorism law, SDF units have provided logistic support to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan. Another new law has paved the way for troops to be sent to help in Iraq’s postwar reconstruction.

The peacekeeping operations law meanwhile sets tight parameters on Japan’s engagement in U.N.-led military activities on foreign soil.

Despite pressure from Washington for a prompt dispatch of SDF troops to Iraq, Kawaguchi said Japan would consider the timing and nature of support activities following the return of a government fact-finding team that left for Iraq on Sept. 14.

Despite speculation that she would be replaced, Kawaguchi, a nonpolitician and former trade ministry bureaucrat, retained her post when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reshuffled his Cabinet on Monday.

Kawaguchi was serving as environment minister when she was named foreign minister in February 2002, following the sacking of the popular Makiko Tanaka amid a row within the ministry.

On the issue of Japanese abducted by North Korean agents, Kawaguchi said the government still plans to do its utmost to resolve the matter, despite the replacement of Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

Abe has worked for a long time on behalf of the relatives of those believed to have been spirited away to the reclusive state.

Last fall, Pyongyang owned up to the abductions and allowed five surviving abductees to return to Japan.

It refused to allow their offspring or the American husband of one of the five to accompany them.

The fate of several other missing Japanese is still at issue, with Pyongyang’s accounts having left many dissatisfied.

The five returnees and their relatives have voiced concern that the government may become less eager to resolve the issue following Abe’s appointment as secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party.

Abe now holds no government post.

“The government is united in its effort to achieve the same goal as the families,” Kawaguchi said. “I consider everyone a comrade.”

As for North Korea’s nuclear threat, she voiced hope that a six-nation framework involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia can clarify how Tokyo can contribute to getting Pyongyang to abandon its atomic ambitions.

“If we have to worry about (the kind of support Japan should provide), that is a happy situation,” Kawaguchi said. “But we are still far from such a stage.”

Kawaguchi brushed aside accusations that her lack of leadership has allowed staff within the Prime Minister’s Official Residence — led by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda — to take the initiative in terms of Japan’s diplomacy.

“Diplomacy should be carried out with the prime minister and his staff at the center, while the Foreign Ministry works to follow the policy,” she said.

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