January 5, 2008 By Kyodo News
Japan's plans for the Maritime Self-Defense Force to only provide fuel in the Indian Ocean to vessels participating in operations to interdict terrorist activities at sea have been opposed by the United States, according to sources close to Japan-U.S. relations.
It would impose restrictions on U.S. antiterrorism operations if Japan's government-sponsored bill to resume the MSDF refueling mission clearly stated that the fuel should not be used for purposes other than the original intent, the U.S. side told Japan, according to the sources.
The Japanese government and ruling coalition aim to have the bill passed by the Diet and the related law enacted sometime this month, but given Washington's stance, they would have no choice but to give up clearly specifying in a bilateral document for what purposes the Japan-provided fuel should be used, the sources said.
Japan's effective abandonment of specifying conditions for use of the fuel in the document will not necessarily mean Washington can use the fuel freely, a Japanese government source said.
But heated debate over the issue is expected when the Diet reconvenes next week, after it was thrown into turmoil over an allegation that Japan-provided fuel was diverted for use in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
However, the Defense Ministry released a report in November that said no fuel was diverted for the Iraqi war.
Japan terminated the MSDF's refueling mission in the Indian Ocean on Nov. 1 when a special law authorizing the mission expired after the ruling coalition and opposition parties failed to reach agreement to extend the law.
A bilateral document based on the expired law had no reference to restrictions on the use of fuel Japan provided to U.S. and allied vessels.
Japanese government officials briefed U.S. officials about when the government and the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc would be able to pass the refueling bill in the Diet.
At the same time, the Japanese officials requested that Washington not use Japan-provided fuel for maritime activities other than to interdict terrorists because the refueling bill is designed to assist U.S. and allied ships taking part in such operations.
But a U.S. government official dismissed the request, saying U.S. military operations could not be influenced by Japan's refueling mission.
The U.S. official said it does not matter how long it takes for the two sides to conclude the document, provided it has no reference to conditions for the use of Japan-provided fuel.