Sun, Oct 20, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Japan to send own force to Mideast

SNUB:Instead of joining a US coalition to protect commercial vessels, Japan plans to deploy warships that are initially to be used for information gathering

AP, TOKYO

The Japanese government on Friday said that it has decided not to join a US coalition to protect commercial vessels in the Middle East, but is preparing to send its own force to ensure the safe shipment of oil to Japan.

Japan would keep cooperating closely with Washington even if it does not join the initiative the US says is aimed at protecting commercial tankers from alleged Iranian attacks, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

“Peace and stability in the Middle East is extremely important for the international society, including Japan,” Suga said at a news conference. “After we studied comprehensively what measures can be most effective, we have decided to pursue our own measures separately.”

Japan’s energy needs rely heavily on oil imports. It has kept friendly ties with Iran and is reluctant to join such a force.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tried to help ease tension between Washington and Tehran.

US-Iranian relations have deteriorated since US President Donald Trump last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions that deteriorated the Iranian economy. Iran has since begun breaking terms of the deal.

The tensions have included seizures of oil tankers at sea.

Japan plans to deploy warships initially for information gathering purposes to the Gulf of Oman, the Northern Arabian Sea and nearby waters, but would not include the Strait of Hormuz at the center of the US-Iran tensions, Suga said.

The timing has not been decided.

Sending warships to areas of military tension is a highly sensitive issue in Japan, where its pacifist postwar constitution strictly limits use of force to the country’s self-defense only, but Abe has gradually expanded Japan’s military role.

In June, a Japanese-operated tanker was attacked in the Gulf of Oman, which Washington said Iran was responsible for and urged Japan to join the US-led military initiative.

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