Japan Considers Role in U.S. Campaign; North Korea, Terrorism Test Foreign policy.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: PACIFIC RIM)

Article excerpt

Byline: Ted Hattori, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Although Japan has supported the U.S.-led war against terrorism in various ways for nearly a year, its government is considering legislation that would allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to operate in Afghanistan in case the United States shifts its military forces to Iraq.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi are visiting the United States this week and next. Mrs. Kawaguchi will come to Washington on Sunday from New York City and stay until Wednesday.

In addition to attending the opening debate of the U.N. General Assembly, the top Japanese officials expect to meet with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

"Of course the main topic of the meetings will be Iraq," said a veteran Washington correspondent from Japan who did not want to be named.

"The Japanese government was reluctant ... to cooperate with a U.S. pre-emptive attack against Iraq and its consequences," the correspondent said. "But now the usually indecisive Japanese government may be making up its mind to help the U.S. war against Iraq."

Echoing a widespread opinion, the correspondent went on: "Japan has never had a clear foreign policy. It moves if it gets pressured by somebody. And Japan has been obedient, like a primary school student, to the United States for more than a half-century."

In a speech this year, Mrs. Kawaguchi told the Japan Press Club in Tokyo that her foreign policy could be summarized in three words: strong, caring and straightforward. She said Japan-U.S. relations are strong, confirmed by Mr. Bush's February visit to Japan.

The Japanese foreign minister, unlike most of her predecessors, seems eager to express Japan's perspective to the rest of the world. For example, Mrs. Kawaguchi insisted that global warming was an important issue, and that Japan would continue to pursue a constructive response from the United States while seeking international rules with the participation of developing countries.

"Needless to say, the [Japanese] government will continue to act proactively to ensure the safety of the state and its people on its own initiative, but under international cooperation," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Although Japan's postwar constitution prohibits recourse to war and its neighbors worry about any return to militarism, Mr. Fukuda emphasized the importance of "international dialogues."

Mr. Koizumi announced in Tokyo last month that he would visit North Korea on Tuesday for talks with leader Kim Jong-il. Mr. Koizumi's visit will be the first to North Korea by a Japanese prime minister, and the summit with Mr. Kim is also unprecedented.

"Leaders must show political will," said Mr. Koizumi. "That's why I decided to go there."

The visit will come less than nine months after the Japanese coast guard sank a North Korean vessel disguised as a fishing boat. The sinking came after a chase from Japanese to Chinese waters in which the intruders reportedly fired shoulder-launched rockets that missed the Japanese ships.

The Japanese salvaged the sunken craft from the bottom of the East China Sea on Wednesday, a week after another suspected North Korean spy ship was photographed approaching Japanese waters.

Even so, a high Japanese government official says North Korea - which is suspected of having kidnapped Japanese citizens in the 1960's and 1970s to help train its spies - has shown interest in dialogue with Japan.

"For instance, on the abduction issue, they had been saying that issue did not exist, but now call it 'a political matter,' suggesting Mr. Kim is ready to discuss it."

Besides discussing normalization of relations and North Korea's weapons development and nuclear program, the Japanese official said, the issue of "unidentified ships" in Japanese waters will be aired. …