• Kyodo


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left Friday for a nearly weeklong tour of the Middle East, seeking to boost Japan’s engagement in the region.

Abe chose Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories to kick off his first diplomatic tour of 2015. He will express Japan’s support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and for international efforts to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Business leaders are accompanying the prime minister in hopes of increasing economic and trade ties with the region.

Abe’s itinerary includes a visit to Yad Vashem — Israel’s national memorial in Jerusalem to the victims of the Holocaust — as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“Peace and stability in the Middle East is extremely important for Japan. Under (the policy of) making proactive contributions to peace, Japan will extend strong support in nonmilitary fields,” Abe told reporters at Tokyo’s Haneda airport before boarding a government jet.

The last time a Japanese leader visited Jordan, Israel and Palestinian territory was in 2006 when Junichiro Koizumi was in office.

Since coming to power in 2012, Abe has been trying to expand Japan’s security profile abroad as a “proactive” contributor to global peace. This year will see debate how much of an expanded role the Self-Defense Forces should have in peacekeeping and other operations abroad.

Abe will meet Saturday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who took office last June, and express support for his government. Egypt is seen as an indispensable player in bringing peace to the region.

In Cairo, Abe is scheduled to deliver a policy speech on the Middle East.

Abe will move on to Jordan for talks Sunday with King Abdullah II, where he is expected to reaffirm his collaboration with global leaders in efforts to cope with Islamic State militants.

When they met in Tokyo last November, Abe praised Jordan’s humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and agreed to jointly tackle the threat posed by the Islamic State.

For the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Japan supports a two-state solution, calling on both sides to pursue negotiations and eschew violence.

Abe and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have already agreed to boost exchanges between their defense authorities, increase cooperation in cybersecurity and work toward a bilateral investment agreement.

Building on their summit last May, Abe is expected to discuss with Netanyahu deepening bilateral ties in a “comprehensive” manner during his stay from Sunday to Monday in Israel, officials said.

Abe will then travel to the Palestinian territories on the last leg of his tour and sit down for talks with President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.

Abe is expected to stress the need for resuming the stalled peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel, according to the officials.

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