Making its debut Monday at a Diet debate, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s new Cabinet faced tough questions on postal privatization and Japan’s future role in rebuilding Iraq.

But Koizumi refused to give ground — or any details.

During the session, the Cabinet refused to discuss how it will reform the postal savings and postal insurance premiums held by the government — worth some 350 trillion yen, or roughly 25 percent of the estimated total financial assets of Japanese individuals.

Koizumi has trumpeted his plan to privatize postal services, a move that will have a critical impact on the nation’s financial system. He recently renewed his pledge to privatize the system by March 31, 2007.

“Does (privatization) mean that the government will withdraw from postal savings and insurance business and leave them all to the private sector?” wondered Democratic Party of Japan leader Naoto Kan. “Or that you are going to transform the services into a massive private-sector bank and a life insurance company?

“Please make it clear.”

While the privatization of postal services has been Koizumi’s pet project for years, he has failed to reveal any details of his plan, including where the money would go after privatization.

“I should not decide details as if I were an expert,” Koizumi responded amid loud heckling from many lawmakers. “Listening to experts, I want to compile a good plan by around next fall.”

The privatization of postal services is one of the most politically sensitive issues facing lawmakers. Employees at the state-run services have provided solid vote-gathering and fundraising support to the Liberal Democratic Party for years.

The prime minister also failed to clarify Japan’s likely response to possible requests from the United States for further cooperation in the reconstruction of Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to ask Japan for further support when he visits Tokyo on Oct. 17.

“The reconstruction of Iraq is an important issue for international society, and we will make contributions befitting our country,” Koizumi said. “From this point of view, I’ll exchange opinions when President Bush visits Japan.”

Koizumi said he would decide if and when the government will dispatch the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq after considering such factors as the results of a government fact-finding mission to the country.

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