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Press Conference by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi: Today, the Government of Japan decided to extend by one year humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities being undertaken by the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in Iraq.
First of all, the SDF must operate in a non-combatant region and the region in which the SDF currently operate continues to be a non-combatant region. In my response to the questions at the Diet, I have stated that the region in which the SDF is operating is a non-combatant region.
I have judged that this region will continue to be a non-combatant region. Of course, the situation there is severe and unpredictable.
If I were pressed to state with 100% certainty that this were the case, I would respond that nothing in life has a 100% guarantee. That is why I recognized that the situation there is severe and unpredictable. I intend to consider various possibilities and take appropriate measures to respond to changing circumstances and conditions there.
Currently, many of the inhabitants of the Samawah region in Iraq are expressing deep gratitude and high praise for what has been achieved by the dedicated efforts of the SDF personnel. I would like once again to express my deep respect to the members of the SDF who, despite the severity of the situation there, are working hard every day in the knowledge that the operations they are carrying out are benefiting the people of Iraq and who take great pride and have confidence in the mission they have been assigned.
At the same time, the Government of Japan has received a firm request from the president and the prime minister of Iraqi Interim Government as well as the regional governors and the local people to allow the SDF to continue to carry on their humanitarian and reconstruction assistances activities.
Currently, the people of Iraq are focusing their energies on building their own nation by their own hands. There are many difficult obstacles to overcome. Across the country, acts of terrorism are committed against those people who are cooperating with the Iraqi Interim Government to establish a stable democratic administration.
The people of Iraq are fighting against those forces that do not wish for Iraq to establish a stable government but instead wish to make Iraq a home for terrorists.
A legislative election is scheduled for next January in Iraq for its people to build their own nation themselves. Both the government and the people of Iraq are together rising to the challenge of realizing the election in January in their mutual desire to create their own government administered in a democratic manner. At such time, I recognize that it would be inappropriate to turn down the request of the Iraqi government and many of the local people for the continuation of the activities performed by the SDF personnel. This is not appropriate.
Based on the belief and wish to support and help the people of Iraq, who are not yielding to terrorism and who are determined to create their own government themselves, I decided that the SDF activities are necessary there. Japan has been receiving high praise for the efforts of the SDF from the people of Iraq. I believe that it is the responsibility of Japan to continue conducting activities that will be highly evaluated long into the future as Japan having extended a helping hand and provided necessary assistance for Iraq's nation building when its people were in most need.
Since my inauguration as Prime Minister, I have been saying that the Japan-US Alliance and international coordination forms the basis of Japan's diplomacy and maintaining a balance between these two is the most important policy for ensuring the development and prosperity of Japan in a peaceful manner. I am now putting my words into practice.
The United States and the United Kingdom stood at different ends from France and Germany at the start of the Iraq War. Currently, however, neither France nor Germany insists that the US Army should retreat from Iraq. Quite to the contrary, they now claim that the presence of US Army is necessary in Iraq. Under such circumstances, putting aside the course that led to the beginning of the war, there has been unanimous agreement at United Nations, including France and Germany, to call on all members to provide assistance appropriate to each country in order to construct a stable and democratic administration in Iraq. The United States is making efforts to create a stable and democratic administration in Iraq notwithstanding the large sacrifices it has made. Approximately 30 countries are currently deploying forces to Iraq and together with the United States and the United Kingdom, they are making efforts, including activities in the area of security, to build a stable country through cooperation with the Iraqi Interim Government.
Although the assistance provided by Japan is different in form from those of United States and the United Kingdom, I believe that Japan, as ally of those countries and a country that places importance on international coordination, needs to provide assistance as much as possible in a form most appropriate to Japan. Japan is performing activities different from other countries. Japan does not take part in activities to maintain domestic security nor does it employ use of force. The SDF personnel are working hard and toiling in their activities for humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. Japan is providing assistance different from other countries because that is the type of assistance most appropriate for Japan.
If the situation allowed, I would like to have not only the SDF personnel but also Japanese civilians and private sector companies to also provide reconstruction assistances to Iraq. However, at the current stage, this is not feasible. The SDF activities are a part of Japan's assistance. Under the current severe situation, the responsibility of Japan as a member of the international community is to provide assistance most appropriate for Japan: this is in the form of personnel assistance provided by the SDF and financial and aid supply assistance through official development assistance (ODA). Considering the fact that the development and prosperity of Japan rests upon the peace and stability of the world, I am convinced that the assistance that Japan currently provides, which realizes the policy of the Japan-US Alliance and international coordination, is in its national interest.
I hereby would like to from the heart ask for your understanding and cooperation in this respect.
Question 1: As you have said, although the situation in Samawah has stabilized in general, its future does not seem to be too optimistic. Some countries have retreated from Iraq, claiming that they have completed their activities in Iraq. Under such circumstances, you have decided to extend the deployment of the SDF by one year. Have you considered the option of not extending the deployment at all or even in the case of extension, a period less than one year, such as three-months or half a year, in accordance with the democratization process in Iraq?
Prime Minister Koizumi: I have considered various options. However, as I have already said, I concluded that extension by one year was most appropriate. The election for the National Assembly is scheduled in January in Iraq. The legislative election based on the Constitution will also take place sometime during the next fiscal year. In addition, next year is a critical year for the multinational forces to execute their mission of assisting the people of Iraq to build a democratic government themselves. While giving consideration to these factors, I decided that extension by one year was most appropriate.
Question 2: I would like to ask a question about the security of SDF personnel on the ground. You have said yourself that the situation in Samawah is unpredictable and severe. In such circumstances, are you sure to be able to unmistakably ensure the safety of the SDF personnel stationed there?
Prime Minister Koizumi: I believe that ensuring the safety and security of SDF activities is an issue that requires sufficient countermeasures and due considerations.
The other day I received a report from Minister of State for Defense Yoshinori Ohno, Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party Tsutomu Takebe, and Secretary General of the New Komeito Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, who had visited Samawah, that SDF activities are not limited to certain cantonments. I hear that the Governorate of Al-Muthanna is equal in area to Kyushu, and that in that area the size of Kyushu there is a population of about 500,000. I hear that the members of the SDF hoist the Japanese flag on their vehicles and travel outside their cantonment areas to engage in medical activities, water provision operations and reconstruction of public facilities, and on these occasions they are warmly welcomed by local residents waving their hands. I have also received reports that in medical facilities such as hospitals, the SDF are protected by local Iraqi security personnel.
The local people say that they can easily recognize strangers in their region. I hear reports that these people are eager for the stationing of the SDF to continue, expressing their willingness to cooperate fully in safety and security aspects.
While I will continue to give due considerations to security aspects, the operations of the SDF over the previous year reveals that the situation has been comparatively stable in comparison to other regions in Iraq. I hear that of the multinational force on the ground in Iraq, over 1,000 personnel have lost their lives to date, and, in the Samawah region, the lives of two soldiers from the Netherlands Arm Forces have been lost. The SDF personnel in Iraq carry machine guns and pistols for their own protection, but I have heard reports that throughout their deployment, whether they have been in towns, or engaged in reconstruction assistance activities, they have never fired a bullet nor raised their guns. It is for such reasons that I consider the situation in Samawah to be relatively stable.
Question 3: I would like to ask whether you have considered the option of withdrawing the SDF personnel from Iraq upon making your decision, and if you have, under which circumstance would that have been your choice. Also please give us the reason why you have additionally included four conditions for considering withdrawal of the SDF in the newly revised Basic Plan.
Prime Minister Koizumi: I have considered various situations. As you all know, the SDF activities are based on the Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq. In the event that the area in which the SDF is providing assistance is no longer a non-combatant region, the SDF will retreat.
The Law stipulates that appropriate measures be taken in the future: that is, to comprehensively look into and study the status of progress of the reconstruction of Iraq, the political process, security conditions and activities of the multinational forces, in order to implement appropriate measures that best meet the situation. I have in mind to take flexible approaches depending on the situation, such as withdrawal and suspension of some activities.
Question 4: Prime Minister Koizumi, two reasons you gave for extending the period of dispatch were the Japan-US Alliance and the promotion of international coordination. Did you waver or struggle in coming to the decision to extend the period of dispatch, given the situation that Iraq currently faces?
Prime Minister Koizumi: I listen to as many opinions as possible when making a decision. There is a whole range of opinions, since some are against and others are for extending the period of dispatch. I make a decision after thoroughly listening to these opinions and I have no doubts after making the decision. To be honest, I often think deeply about a lot of things when making a decision, but once I decide, I have no regrets.
This time around, considering the will that the Iraqi people have shown toward reconstruction, Japan must lend its support. Building a stable administration in Iraq is in line with Japan's national interest. Japan working with other countries around the world and extending a helping hand for another country's nation-building is in accord with the spirit of Japan's "desire to occupy an honored place in the international society," as stated in the Preamble of the Constitution of Japan.
From this perspective, Japan cannot secure its peace and independence alone in the context of international coordination and the Japan-US Alliance. I am aware of the significance of the Japan-US Security Treaty, considering the current and potential future situation regarding Japan's neighboring countries. I believe that the United States is in a difficult position as well. As its ally, mutual cooperation and fostering a relationship of trust is essential for Japan's peace and stability. Many people agree that the Japan-US Alliance and international coordination is the way to ensure Japan's development and prosperity. My decision this time is to implement this in concrete terms. I have no doubts about my decision.
Question 5: As you say, I believe that the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq will be of great moral support to the United States, the ally of Japan. With this year-long extension of the period of dispatch, do you intend to give any advice or make any strict requests to the United States regarding its policy toward Iraq?
Prime Minister Koizumi: I always convey my thoughts as well as those of the Government of Japan in my meetings with President George W. Bush. I emphasize that what is important is international coordination and that many countries are requesting assistance from the United States. Afghanistan and other regions are asking for cooperation from the United States, including in the Middle East peace process. The countries around the world recognize the sheer vastness of American power.
I believe that we must not isolate the United States. International coordination is about creating a structure that enables the United States to cooperate with the rest of the world. I believe that Japan is responsible for realizing international coordination together with the United States. I am always informing President Bush of the importance of building an international coordination structure in our meetings.
I think this is precisely the reason why the United States has now indicated a stance to work toward nation-building in Iraq, gaining unanimous support at the United Nations for the establishment of an international coordination structure toward nation-building in Iraq.
I will meet with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany later today. Germany also intends to cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorism. Although Germany has not dispatched forces to Iraq, we are currently discussing how we can cooperate in training and educating security forces in Iraq. As for Afghanistan, Germany is also cooperating with the United States to build a stable government in Afghanistan by sending forces there.
I believe what is important is for Japan to fulfill its role so as to encourage the United States to continue working within the international coordination structure.
Question 6: While it is naturally the case for politics to predict the worst case scenario, it is actually the case that compared to one year ago, the security situation in Samawah and the surrounding region has deteriorated. If it were the case that SDF personnel were to be faced with an unexpected situation, would you consider taking political responsibility?
Prime Minister Koizumi: I believe it is my responsibility to see to it that the SDF personnel can operate safely. That is why I have given due consideration to all security aspects surrounding the operations of the SDF and am making unstinting efforts to put in place all the necessary measures.
As for what kind of security measures are being implemented, I think that if I were to enumerate them one by one, it would conversely have an adverse impact on the safety of the SDF personnel. I would like to refrain from speaking in specifics. I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that measures are in place that enable the SDF personnel to operate in safety.
Question 7: You mentioned that as part of humanitarian and reconstruction activities, Japan is conducting different form of activities from other countries. The Air Self-Defense Forces are transporting armed US troops as operations to ensure security. I assume that such activities will also be extended given today's decision, but the actual status of which troops are being transported where and the status of such activities has not been made clear. I believe that if these activities are also to be extended, it should be made clear just what operations to ensure security entail. What are your views?
Prime Minister Koizumi: With regard to operations to ensure security, the Air Self-Defense Forces are engaged in the transportation of goods and materials. However, with regard to the specifics of which divisions are doing what and where, there are safety aspects to consider and certain details that cannot be disclosed. However, I should emphasize that the policy of not carrying arms or ammunition remains unchanged.
Question 8: December next year will see the end of this new extension to SDF operations in Iraq and it is also expected to see the end of the political process. Is it your idea to aim for a withdrawal from Iraq at this time?
Prime Minister Koizumi: The decision on when to withdraw from Iraq should be made while looking closely at the situation during the period of deployment.
Ideally, we would see the situation will arrive when reconstruction assistance activities need no longer be implemented by the SDF, but where Japanese civilian or private sector companies could provide such assistance. This however, is an issue that requires close observation of the prevailing situation in making an appropriate decision.
Question 9: If that is the case, are you suggesting that another extension is an option, depending on the formation of the Iraqi political process?
Prime Minister Koizumi: That is an issue that would need to be considered over the next one-year period of extension, taking into careful account the situation in Iraq.