Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hinted Tuesday that the government might alter its constitutional interpretation of the nation’s right to collective self-defense as it deals with future changes in the security situation.

Speaking before the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Koizumi reiterated that sending the Self-Defense Forces to Iraq for reconstruction efforts does not contravene the Constitution, dismissing the suggestion raised last month by Democratic Party of Japan leader Naoto Kan that the government was in breach of the Constitution by dispatching the SDF.

Commenting on the controversy, Koizumi said, “The Constitution can be amended in accordance with the change of the times, and if it’s not amended, I do not believe it is wrong to alter its interpretation.”

Koizumi had earlier said it would be better to amend the Constitution rather than change the interpretation.

The government’s interpretation is that Japan has the right of collective self-defense but cannot exercise it under the Constitution, which renounces the use of force as means of settling international disputes.

Koizumi said the interpretation of the Constitution changes with circumstances, citing past controversies over whether the very existence of the SDF was unconstitutional.

Sending SDF personnel to contribute to United Nations-led peacekeeping operations was also considered unconstitutional in the past, but few people are of that opinion now, he said.

Koizumi later told the committee he respects the government’s conventional interpretation and the Diet’s deliberations on the Constitution, adding that he believes the Constitution should be amended in a way that prevents public opinion being divided on the question of constitutional interpretation.

Kan, speaking at a news conference, criticized Koizumi for making “imprudent remarks” about the interpretation of the Constitution. He reiterated the need for the government to establish an independent court on the Constitution to determine its interpretation.

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