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Komeito chief Yamaguchi says Abe’s idea to amend Constitution ‘difficult’ without public support

Kyodo, JIJI

The leader of Komeito, the junior coalition partner to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, expressed pessimism Wednesday about the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambition to amend the Constitution, including its war-renouncing Article 9, by 2020.

“It would be difficult without significant public support,” Natsuo Yamaguchi said in response to a question from a student at a university event during his visit to Moscow.

“We’re nowhere near there right now, so frankly it would be difficult,” Yamaguchi said.

At the same time, Yamaguchi said he “can’t foresee whether or not an amendment like the one the prime minister proposed can be realized.”

In May, Abe said he wants an amendment proposal to be debated in the Diet and put to a constitutionally required nationwide referendum in time for it to enter into force in 2020.

Stressing he was speaking not as prime minister but as president of the LDP, Abe suggested retaining the existing war-renouncing clauses of Article 9 while adding an explicit mention of the role of the Self-Defense Forces.

Pointing out that Abe’s idea differs from a draft proposal prepared by his party in 2012, Yamaguchi said the LDP “hasn’t reached a consensus.”

On Japan-Russia relations, Yamaguchi stressed that now is the time to move forward in territorial talks on four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

“We now see a golden opportunity (to advance the bilateral relations), and we can’t afford to lose this,” he said.

“The time is coming for both countries to do what must be done,” Yamaguchi said.

Yamaguchi pointed out that Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been building trust by holding a number of bilateral summits.

The Japan-Russia relationship entered a new stage after their summit last December in Japan, he added. The meeting was held for two days in Nagato, Yamaguchi Prefecture, which is part of Abe’s constituency, on the first day, and in Tokyo on the second.

At the summit, Abe and Putin agreed to launch talks on joint economic activities on and around the disputed islands under a special framework that does not undermine either countries’ legal positions.

The Komeito chief called the agreement a “significant step” toward the conclusion of a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities between Tokyo and Moscow.

“Komeito will collect its wisdom and do all it can to find a solution for the territorial issue that is acceptable to both sides,” Yamaguchi said.

The four islands off Hokkaido, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, were seized by the former Soviet Union from Japan at the end of the war. The territorial dispute has blocked the conclusion of a bilateral peace treaty.

Meanwhile, Yamaguchi noted that it is extremely important for Japan and Russia to strengthen their security cooperation for ensuring peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

He condemned North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, conducted on Sept. 3, as totally unacceptable and said that the Japanese ruling bloc will closely work with the international community, including Russia, to make sure that a series of U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions against North Korea will have real effects.