A 53-day extraordinary Diet session began Tuesday, with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reiterating his determination to stick to his administrative reform initiatives, including the privatization of Japan’s postal services.

But Koizumi avoided some political land mines in his policy speech, most notably details regarding revisions to the Political Funds Control Law and key questions on diplomatic issues related to Iraq and North Korea — all expected to be hot topics in upcoming Diet debate.

“The privatization of the postal services will be the largest reform since the Meiji Era and is at the heart of the reforms of the Koizumi Cabinet,” Koizumi told the plenary session of the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon.

“Currently Japan Post employs 400,000 personnel, but are the postal services something that can only be managed by civil servants?” he asked.

Most lawmakers in the chamber reacted coolly to Koizumi’s reformist overtures. Many lawmakers of his own Liberal Democratic Party oppose postal privatization because the owners of post offices have been one of the strongest support groups for the party.

Likewise, many opposition lawmakers have been backed by powerful labor unions of postal workers, who would lose their civil servant status through privatization.

Opposition parties plan to grill the government over the LDP’s reluctance to revise the Political Funds Control Law, despite recent money scandals involving LDP lawmakers and the Japan Dental Association.

But in an apparent attempt to avoid provoking his LDP colleagues, Koizumi did not mention such legal revisions, vaguely pledging to promote political reforms instead.

“The prime minister has told us he will keep watching the LDP’s moves (on the issue of revamping political funding laws) because he has already tasked (the issue) to the LDP secretary general,” a senior government official said.

Meanwhile, Koizumi did not explicitly criticize North Korea for its missile and nuclear weapons development or past abductions of Japanese nationals, saying only that these issues must be resolved based on the 2002 Pyongyang Declaration he signed during a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Koizumi put diplomatic issues at the end of his 20-minute speech, saying the Iraqi interim government and local residents appreciate the reconstruction activities of the Self-Defense Forces. He added that Japan plans to chair an international reconstruction conference starting Wednesday.

He also pledged to end the problem of nonperforming loans held by the nation’s banks by the end of the current fiscal year.

Koizumi also promised to construct safety nets for local economies through such measures as ensuring a sufficient supply of capital for small and midsize companies.

Other main points Koizumi confirmed in his speech include:

Continuing government promotional campaigns aimed at attracting 10 million foreign visitors to Japan by fiscal 2010, compared with 5.35 million in fiscal 2003.

Beefing up measures against terrorism through such steps as tightening immigration controls and placing sky marshals on airplanes.

Strengthening the Japan-Russia relationship, particularly in the area of economic cooperation, while aiming to conclude a peace treaty through the resolution of an ongoing territorial dispute.

Realizing a primary budget balance in the early 2010s by reducing government debt.

Privatizing four semigovernmental highway corporations in fiscal 2005 as planned and halving road construction costs to 10 trillion yen.

Koizumi made no mention of the recent conclusion by United States arms experts that weapons of mass destruction did not exist in Iraq prior to the U.S.-led attack on the country.

Japan has supported the U.S.-led war against Iraq, citing Iraq’s possession of WMD as a key reason.

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