Japan PM Pledges New Anti-Terror Mission

Tokyo, January 1, 2008 (AP): Japan's prime minister pledged Tuesday to resume naval operations near Afghanistan after he resolves a political dispute over Tokyo's role in the global fight against terrorist groups.

"At this very moment in the Indian Ocean, numerous countries are cooperating carrying on their fight against terrorism," Yasuo Fukuda said in a New Year's message. "I want Japan to be working hard for the world along with other countries as soon as possible."

Japan's naval mission in the region the past six years provided logistical support to forces involved in the war in Afghanistan. It mainly supplied some 132 million gallons of fuel to coalition warships, including from the U.S., Britain and Pakistan, the Defense Ministry says.

The mission was recalled Nov. 1 after Japanese opposition parties raised concerns that the operation did not have explicit support from the United Nations. The opposition also said the mission possibly violated Japan's pacifist constitution.

The retreat was a major embarrassment for Fukuda, who has been a staunch supporter of a continued presence for Japan in the region, and cast doubt on how far Tokyo can back Washington in its global war on terrorist groups.

Fukuda's government has now submitted a bill to parliament to allow the ships to be deployed again, but in a more limited role. The ruling bloc is expected to use its majority in the powerful lower house to push the bill through the upper chamber, which is controlled by the opposition.

Under the new bill, Japan's deployment would be limited to refueling and supplying water to ships used in monitoring and inspecting vessels suspected of links to terrorism or arms smuggling. Ships would not refuel coalition vessels directly involved in military operations inside Afghanistan.

In his New Year's message, Fukuda also promised to spearhead efforts to curb global warming in 2008 after Japan takes over the presidency of the Group of Eight industrial countries from Germany. Japan has fallen far behind its Kyoto Protocol commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"By sharing the world's most advanced technology, Japan is prepared to play a major role" in the fight against climate change, Fukuda said.