U.N. backing could help Japan extend Afghan mission

TOKYO (Reuters) – A U.N. resolution to be adopted this month could help clear the way for Japan to extend its naval mission in support of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan — a move keenly sought by Washington, a diplomatic source said.The leader of Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party, Ichiro Ozawa, has opposed extending Japan’s mission to refuel coalition ships in the Indian Ocean, in part because he says the activities lack a direct U.N. imprimatur.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe abruptly announced his resignation last week after a troubled year in office, citing the confrontation over the naval mission as the main reason.

The Democrats and their opposition allies, which won control of parliament’s upper house in a July election, can delay legislation to extend the mission beyond a November 1 deadline.

A U.N. Security Council resolution to extend the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, a NATO-led peace force, is likely to include “words of appreciation” for the Indian Ocean maritime mission, the diplomatic source said.

“I think it’s likely and it’s going to be a very good boost for the continuation of the operations,” the source said on Wednesday.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Kaoru Yosano told a news conference he had not seen the contents of the resolution, but it might show how the international community viewed Japan’s naval mission and what it expected from Japan in the future.

“If and when we start discussions … the resolution would be a significant clue to understand the international community,” Yosano said.

Both candidates to succeed Abe — 71-year-old former chief cabinet minister Yasuo Fukuda and former foreign minister Taro Aso — have stressed the need to continue the naval mission, in which Japan supplies fuel for coalition ships from countries including Pakistan, the only Muslim nation to take part.

Japanese public support for the mission has been growing, but it was unclear whether the U.N. resolution would be enough to change the Democratic Party’s stance.

Democratic Party Secretary-General Yukio Hatoyama termed the notion of referring to the maritime activities in the U.N. resolution “ridiculous,” adding, “What is the government up to?”

Some analysts, though, said a U.N. resolution might provide a way for Ozawa to resolve divisions in his party between hawks who favor extending the naval mission and doves who oppose it.

“Ozawa would win in two ways,” said Steven Reed, a political science professor at Chuo University in Tokyo.

“First, the LDP comes around to the Democratic Party policy, and second, he bridges gaps in his own party.”

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