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Japan Pledges Additional $100 Million to Palestinians

Japan pledged an additional $100 million in economic aid to the Palestinian government. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced the package after meeting in the Japanese capital with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting is part of an effort by Japan to expand its influence in the Middle East.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi had hoped to host a Middle East peace summit with the Palestinian leader sitting down here with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. But Israel declined the summit invitation. Mr. Sharon is scheduled to make an official visit to Tokyo next month.

After a one-hour meeting with Mr. Abbas and other top Palestinian government officials, the Japanese prime minister told reporters he still hopes to get the Palestinian and Israeli leaders together in Tokyo.

Mr. Koizumi says President Abbas told him that if the Israeli prime minister will agree to a three-way summit he is willing to come back to Tokyo for such a diplomatic breakthrough.

Mr. Abbas is not leaving Tokyo empty-handed. Japan is pledging an extra $100 million in aid for the Abbas government, bringing the total Japan has dispensed or pledged to the Palestinians since 1993 to more than $900 million.

President Abbas, standing beside Mr. Koizumi, told reporters he is grateful for Japan's tremendous support and its sense of balance in regards to Middle East diplomacy.

Japan's attempt to play a larger role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process comes as Tokyo campaigns for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

This is Mr. Abbas' first visit to the world's second-largest economy since he succeeded the late Yasser Arafat. Mr. Arafat was a frequent visitor to Japan during his long tenure as the leader of the Palestinians. Mr. Abbas heads for China on Tuesday and is scheduled to meet later this month with President Bush in Washington.