World News

Envoys urge Japan to extend Indian Ocean mission

TOKYO (Reuters) - Envoys from 11 countries including the United States and Pakistan urged Tokyo on Thursday to extend its naval mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, the latest sign of pressure on opposition parties to drop their stance against extending the refuelling activities.

“The members of the coalition acknowledge and greatly appreciate Japan’s support ... and hope that Japan will continue its important contribution,” Kamran Niaz, ambassador from Pakistan -- the only Muslim country taking part in the operations in the Indian Ocean -- told reporters after the envoys met at his embassy.

Other countries represented at Thursday’s meeting included France, Germany and Afghanistan.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who took office on Wednesday, has stressed the need to extend the mission, the legal mandate for which expires on Nov. 1.

“This is a sign that all these countries have high expectations of Japan,” Fukuda told reporters at his residence. “I think they all feel the same way about the need to prevent the spread of terrorism.”

But the opposition Democratic Party and its small allies are against it and can delay enabling legislation because they hold a majority in parliament’s upper house.

Washington has said Japan’s mission is vital not only for the United States but for the broader international community and U.S. President George W. Bush made the point again in a telephone chat with Fukuda on Wednesday.

“It’s not an American question -- it’s a question for the international community,” U.S. ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer said after the meeting at the Pakistani embassy.

Fukuda’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, abruptly resigned on Sept. 12, saying he wanted to clear the way for a compromise over the mission with the opposition, although he later said he had stepped down mainly for health reasons.

The ruling coalition can override an upper house rejection of enabling legislation with its two-thirds majority in parliament’s more powerful lower house, but will be keeping an eye on public opinion so as not to risk a backlash, analysts say.

Public support for the Japanese mission has been rising, and a survey by the Nikkei business daily published on Thursday showed that 47 percent of voters now back the activities against 37 percent who oppose an extension.

Democratic Party leaders have said the mission lacks the imprimatur of the United Nations, and dismissed a recent expression of gratitude for the maritime interdiction operations contained in a U.N. Security Council Resolution as insufficient.

The Democrats also plan to press for more information about what precisely the maritime interdiction mission is accomplishing and whether Japanese fuel provided has been diverted for U.S. operations in Iraq in violation of the enabling legislation, as reported by some Japanese media.