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Japan Ready to Help US - 2001-09-20

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi says his government is taking steps to be ready to militarily assist the United States when it goes to war against terrorists. The Koizumi government is preparing to ease legislative restrictions banning Japanese defense forces from operating outside the country. Mr. Koizumi is not prepared yet to go as far as changing the pacifist constitution.

Prime Minister Koizumi says his government is moving quickly to clear the way for Japanese troops to provide logistical support to the United States, if and when it retaliates for the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The Japanese leader told journalists in Tokyo late Wednesday that a new law might be enacted to give the Japanese self defense forces a role in overseas conflicts.

Japan has decided to take concrete steps to halt terrorism in cooperation with other countries. As a friend of the United States, I want to offer Japan's utmost support and cooperation.

Mr. Koizumi outlined a series of measures, which would allow Japanese troops to transport goods and provide medical aid, but avoid the frontlines of battle.

It is not yet clear if the prime minister has the legislative support needed to implement the defense changes. Within Tokyo, the debate over whether to get involved in the potential U.S. led conflict is sensitive, both within Parliament and on the streets, where there have been scattered protests on both sides of the issue.

Japan's constitution, written by American occupation forces after World War II, strictly limits the activities of the country's military. It bans the use of force as a means of settling international conflicts and prohibits Japan from sending troops outside the country.

New legislation being considered now would not amend Japan's constitution. It would be tailored to give Japan more military flexibility for this specific action only.

A vote in Parliament on the Koizumi plan is expected to take place next week and would take effect soon after, if approved. Analysts say that Tokyo wants to avoid the problems that it suffered a decade ago during the Gulf War. It allies, including the United States, were unhappy that Japan did not commit troops to take part in the multinational force that pushed Iraq out of Kuwait. Under pressure from Washington though, Tokyo did contribute $13 billion to the war effort.

Mr. Koizumi is expected to visit Washington in the coming days to meet with President Bush in a further show of support.