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Japan foreign minister to fight to keep Afghan mission
Tokyo, August 27, 2007 (Reuters): Japan's new foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, on Monday vowed to do whatever he could to continue Tokyo's support for U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan and boost relations between Tokyo and Washington.
The leader of main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which won control of the upper house of parliament last month, has vowed to oppose the extension of the mission.
The DPJ and its opposition allies could force a suspension of Japan's refuelling mission for U.S.-led coalition warships in the Indian Ocean, which has been operating since 2001 under a law that expires on Nov. 1.
Machimura said he would do whatever it takes to persuade DPJ head Ichiro Ozawa and other members of his party to agree to extend the law.
"It is not just for Japan's relations with the United States. Japan, as a member of the international community, has to take responsible action, and therefore we have to do this," Machimura told reporters shortly after being named the new foreign minister.
"I believe we will be able to secure the understanding of the Democrats, and to this end I will do my best."
Opposition lawmakers in the upper house could reject the bill, forcing the LDP to present it to the lower house again, in which case it would need a two-thirds majority to pass. The resulting delay could mean a hiatus in Japan's supply mission.
Policy experts say the withdrawal of Japanese troops could sour Japan's security ties with the United States.
Ozawa rebuffed a personal appeal for support from U.S. ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer this month, saying the war in Afghanistan was a U.S. fight that "had nothing to do with the United Nations or the international community".
Machimura stressed the need for Japan to strengthen its relations with the United States, cooperate with China, South Korea and Russia, and boost its ties with India and Australia.
"The Japan-U.S. alliance is the backbone of Japan's foreign policy... We need to solidify the basis for Japan-U.S. relations," he said.