Japan should contribute to Afghanistan: minister
Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Thursday Tokyo would not "simply" extend a naval refueling mission in support of U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan, but added Japan should offer some form of support, Reuters reported.
New Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's promise to steer a more independent course from Japan's main ally has raised anxiety about possible friction between them over defense issues.
A U.S. defense department spokesman said this week the refueling mission was helpful and he hoped it would continue, Kyodo news agency reported.
"As I have said before and after the election, we will not simply extend the mission," Okada told reporters. He did not elaborate on whether this meant the mission could be continued under different conditions.
"It is not directly linked, but looking at the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Japanese support is called for," he said when asked about possible alternative contributions.
The idea of sending troops to Afghanistan had been floated by a former leader of Hatoyama's Democratic Party, but is unlikely to be popular in Japan, where a U.S.-drafted postwar pacifist constitution remains in force.
Okada said negotiations should start quickly on problems including plans to reduce the burden of military bases on the southern island of Okinawa, which involve moving a U.S. Marine base out of a town center and redeploying some Marines to Guam.
He said Japan would be flexible.
"We want to increase the number of options," he said. "If we say we won't budge at all, there can be no negotiations."
Hatoyama said Wednesday building a relationship of trust will be the priority when he meets President Barack Obama in the United States next week.