- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

TOKYO — Japan, which this week pledged $1.5 billion to help rebuild Iraq, could provide up to $5 billion and send more than 500 troops to serve in noncombat security roles across the Arab country, a senior Bush administration official said yesterday.

“The Japanese are looking at needs, and I think they’ll probably say more at Madrid,” the senior Bush official told reporters aboard Air Force One, referring to next week’s international donors conference in Spain. “The Japanese have been very helpful with noncombatant roles, and I expect they’ll do more of that.”

U.S. government and international aid agencies estimate that postwar reconstruction costs for Iraq will total about $50 billion. President Bush has asked Congress to approve $20 billion in financial assistance to rebuild Iraq.

This week the House approved the president’s request in the form of a $20 billion grant to Iraq. But the Senate narrowly voted to make half of the U.S. reconstruction fund a loan to Baghdad.

Mr. Bush, on the first leg of a six-day Asian trip, is looking to build international support among allies before next week’s international donors conference in Madrid.

The Japanese media reported the $1.5 billion was a down payment on a $5 billion aid package through 2007 that would be announced at next week’s conference.

“Japan is looking at what it can do within what are pretty large restrictions,” the senior Bush official said on the condition of anonymity.

The island nation is already planning to send more than 100 Self-Defense Forces troops to noncombat areas in Iraq to secure safe water, electricity, sewage and medical services. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is also considering whether to add more than 500 additional troops to the effort.

Thursday’s unanimous United Nations Security Council vote on a new Iraq resolution authorizing U.S. rule in that country could encourage other nations to contribute cash and troops. But the senior U.S. official said the administration was under no illusions this would happen quickly.

The official said Mr. Bush was personally pressing world leaders, through phone calls, letters and in-person pleas, to make contributions.

“We’re doing quite a lot of pressing of everybody,” said the official. “Obviously these meetings [in Asia] allow him to make the case.”

During their brief meeting yesterday, Mr. Bush and Mr. Koizumi reiterated the need for a “peaceful resolution” to the North Korean nuclear standoff, a senior official said.

In the closed-door talks “the two leaders once again reiterated the need for a peaceful resolution,” the official told reporters.

“Both agreed that the six-party process lays out a very helpful way to try and achieve this goal,” the official said, referring to six-party talks grouping the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China and North Korea.

“The five powers have all agreed that North Korea cannot reap the benefits of being engaged with the international community without abandoning its nuclear weapons program,” the official said.

Mr. Bush and first lady Laura Bush were greeted warmly by Mr. Koizumi at Tokyo’s Akasaka Palace, built in 1909 as the residence for Japan’s crown prince. The president called the Japanese leader “a good friend” and “a very strong leader.”

“The relationship between Japan and the United States is very good,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Koizumi, speaking in English, likewise provided pleasantries but no details of their talks, other than to call them “very frank, meaningful, interesting, fantastic.”

In addition to thanking Mr. Koizumi for help with Iraq, aides said the president would press Tokyo to cease intervening in currency markets.

Nearby, a few dozen protesters demonstrated against Mr. Bush’s visit in front of the grounds of the U.S. Embassy, where the first couple was staying. The protesters carried antinuclear messages, but also condemned the U.S.-led war in Iraq and Japan’s plans to help with the aftermath.

Following his brief stay in Japan, Mr. Bush is scheduled to travel today to the Philippines where the threat of terrorist attacks has heightened security concerns.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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