PRESSURE IN JAPAN
The U.S. ambassador in Tokyo is worried that Japan might cut off its crucial refueling support for coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq because of domestic political opposition to the continued deployment of Japanese troops.
Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer, who earlier this year pressed Japan hard to increase defense spending, is now trying a softer approach to persuade Japan to extend its logistical role beyond January, when a law authorizing the airlift services expires.
"We're very appreciative of what Japan has done both in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we're hopeful that they'll be able to continue making contributions to the realization of both a peaceful Iraq and a peaceful Afghanistan," he told reporters in Tokyo last week after meeting with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.
Mr. Fukuda is facing pressure from the New Komeito Party, a partner in his governing coalition, as well as from the main opposition Democratic Party in the lower house of parliament, or Diet. The legislature is expected to convene in a special session to consider extending the deployment later this month or in September.
Japan stations about 200 air force personnel in Kuwait to resupply U.S. and other coalition ships patrolling the Indian Ocean to support the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Opponents of the mission regard the deployment of Japanese forces overseas as a violation of Japan's pacifist constitution, which allows a military only for defensive purposes.
Mr. Schieffer, aware of the sensitivity of commenting on domestic politics, sidestepped a reporter's question about whether parliament should hold the special session.
"That's a decision that the Diet has to make," he said.
In May, Mr. Schieffer had no misgivings about criticizing Japan for spending too little on its military.
"Japan should consider the benefits of increasing its own defense spending in order to support their security needs in the future," he told the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Tokyo.
"It is troubling to note that the ratio of defense spending to gross domestic product has been steadily shrinking," he added. "This year that number will be less than 1 percent, .89 percent to be precise."
Prominent Democratic diplomats, trade representatives and retired members of Congress are joining Republicans in urging the Democrat-controlled Congress to pass free-trade agreements for Colombia and Panama, calling them "vital" national security issues.
The Colombian Embassy, trying to persuade Congress to vote on the trade pact, is distributing comments from Democrats like Lee Hamilton of Indiana, a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Charlene Barshefsky, a U.S. trade representative under President Clinton, and Thomas "Mack" McLarty, who served Mr. Clinton both as a chief of staff and as a special envoy to Latin America.
They are calling on Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to drop their criticisms of labor policies in Colombia and Panama. Republican have accused top Democrats of opposing the deal only to appease their own supporters in American labor unions, who generally oppose free-trade agreements.
"Looking ahead, I do think we should begin by passing the Colombia and Panama agreements," Mrs. Barshefsky, who held the rank of ambassador, told the Senate Finance Committee in a hearing last week.
"To repudiate [the Colombia agreement] at this juncture would do nothing to strengthen labor rights in Colombia."
Mr. Hamilton and Mr. McLarty signed an open letter to Congress, declaring the Colombia agreement to be in "our vital national security and economic interests."
They also reminded Democratic leaders that Plan Colombia, a $5 billion aid package to help the country fight narco-terrorism, was approved during the Clinton administration.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail email@example.com.