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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stopped short of fully endorsing American-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants during his latest U.S. trip through Friday, including in his first U.N. General Assembly address since Japan abandoned its postwar policy of strictly limiting its use of force to self-defense.

Shortly before the closely watched general debate session began at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, U.S.-led forces launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants and members of an al-Qaida affiliate called the Khorasan Group in Syria, expanding the military action beyond Iraq.

President Barack Obama drummed up support for the air campaign in his speech at the general debate and a special summit session of the Security Council he chaired. Many countries, including Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, have backed the bombing, with a number taking part in the operations.

Japan, whose closest and most important security ally is the United States, throughout remained cautious about voicing support for the airstrikes, as questions lingered about the legality and other aspects of the military action.

When asked by a reporter with an American media outlet at a news conference in New York on Friday whether Japan can back the U.S.-led attacks, Abe said Japan “supports” the fight against the Islamic State group itself, but would only go so far as to say his administration “understands” the reason behind the airstrikes.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida conveyed the position using exactly the same words when he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the margins of the U.N. meetings.

Abe’s Cabinet modified the policy on exercising the collective self-defense right in July so that the Self-Defense Forces will be able to operate more freely in conjunction with U.S. forces overseas.

The right to collective self-defense, recognized in the U.N. Charter as something “inherent” to a nation, is the right of a country to use force when an ally comes under attack.

The Japanese government had long upheld the position that Japan cannot exercise it because of a constitutional constraint that bans the use of force to settle international disputes.

The policy change does not mean the SDF can expand its scope of activities immediately, as the Abe government has yet to craft bills to meet operational needs that have to be approved in the Diet.

In his key speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Abe was apparently careful not to portray Japan as keen on taking an overt military posture, making a “pledge never to wage war” and saying Japan is a nation that has worked to eliminate a “war culture” and will spare no efforts to continue doing so.

Instead, Abe said Japan will work to boost SDF participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

In a separate speech during a high-level meeting Friday on strengthening international peacekeeping, Abe said Japan will closely look at Africa as “the rapid deployment of PKOs is a particularly urgent challenge,” especially in the region.

Abe also voiced support for the African Peacekeeping Rapid Response Partnership announced last month by the United States.

“Japan is prepared to provide engineering equipment in Africa through the trust fund in the United Nations as well as training in operating these machines effectively,” Abe said.

When U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets began last month, Japanese officials initially also used the word “understand” in describing Tokyo’s response.

While some U.S. officials may be unhappy with Japan stopping short of offering clear-cut public support for the bombing, Tokyo’s cautious choice of language appears to have had only limited impact on the bilateral alliance, according to U.S. political analysts.

“Understand” is the right choice of word for Japan to describe its current position, James Schoff, a Washington-based expert on bilateral relations, said.Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stopped short of fully endorsing American-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants during his latest U.S. trip through Friday, including in his first U.N. General Assembly address since Japan abandoned its postwar policy of strictly limiting its use of force to self-defense.

Shortly before the closely watched general debate session began at the United Nations in New York on Wednesday, U.S.-led forces launched airstrikes against Islamic State militants and members of an al-Qaida affiliate called the Khorasan Group in Syria, expanding the military action beyond Iraq.

President Barack Obama drummed up support for the air campaign in his speech at the general debate and a special summit session of the Security Council he chaired. Many countries, including Britain, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, have backed the bombing, with a number taking part in the operations.

Japan, whose closest and most important security ally is the United States, throughout remained cautious about voicing support for the airstrikes, as questions lingered about the legality and other aspects of the military action.

When asked by a reporter with an American media outlet at a news conference in New York on Friday whether Japan can back the U.S.-led attacks, Abe said Japan “supports” the fight against the Islamic State group itself, but would only go so far as to say his administration “understands” the reason behind the airstrikes.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida conveyed the position using exactly the same words when he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the margins of the U.N. meetings.

Abe’s Cabinet modified the policy on exercising the collective self-defense right in July so that the Self-Defense Forces will be able to operate more freely in conjunction with U.S. forces overseas.

The right to collective self-defense, recognized in the U.N. Charter as something “inherent” to a nation, is the right of a country to use force when an ally comes under attack.

The Japanese government had long upheld the position that Japan cannot exercise it because of a constitutional constraint that bans the use of force to settle international disputes.

The policy change does not mean the SDF can expand its scope of activities immediately, as the Abe government has yet to craft bills to meet operational needs that have to be approved in the Diet.

In his key speech at the United Nations on Thursday, Abe was apparently careful not to portray Japan as keen on taking an overt military posture, making a “pledge never to wage war” and saying Japan is a nation that has worked to eliminate a “war culture” and will spare no efforts to continue doing so.

Instead, Abe said Japan will work to boost SDF participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

When U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets began last month, Japanese officials initially also used the word “understand” in describing Tokyo’s response.

While some U.S. officials may be unhappy with Japan stopping short of offering clear-cut public support for the bombing, Tokyo’s cautious choice of language appears to have had only limited impact on the bilateral alliance, according to U.S. political analysts.

“Understand” is the right choice of word for Japan to describe its current position, James Schoff, a Washington-based expert on bilateral relations, said.

Japan does not appear confident about extending support for airstrikes against the militants from a legal point of view and whether or not to establish a precedent, said Schoff, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

An Abe government official said the word “understand” was chosen because the international community cannot support the airstrikes as conforming to international law.

The U.S.-led campaign mobilizing bombers and drones against the Islamic State has not been authorized by a U.N. Security Council resolution, which would bestow legitimacy and thus make it easier for other countries to offer military or other forms of support.

Another Japanese government official added that it remains difficult to assess the legal consequences and other aspects of the airstrikes because of a lack of intelligence about the Islamic State.

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