TOKYO -- Japan's Cabinet has worked out the basics of a plan to send soldiers to join United Nations operations in the Persian Gulf, Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu said yesterday.
Mr. Kaifu said he would call the Diet, Japan's parliament, into special session to act on a bill that would allow uniformed soldiers to join in operations outside Japan for the first time since the U.S. occupation imposed a pacifist constitution on this country after World War II.
Responding to relentless U.S. pressure to take a tangible as well as a financial role in resisting Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, Mr. Kaifu said the time had come for Japanese to be seen to "sweat" alongside other nationals in times of crisis. He added that the intention was to have Japan "support United Nations peacekeeping activities as much as possible in non-military areas."
After weeks of often-contentious negotiations within his government, Mr. Kaifu managed to produce the terms -- but not yet a draft -- of the bill at a news conference hours before leaving for the United States, where he will meet President Bush and other world leaders. He will then go on to the Middle East.
If approved, the bill would bite deeply into one of the most sacred taboos of postwar Japanese politics.
How rough the going will be in the Diet was made clear just before Mr. Kaifu spoke, when Takako Doi, head of the Japan Socialist Party, the country's largest opposition group, met with the prime minister and told him her party would fight his plan.
"The government should not dispatch forces overseas in any form," Ms. Doi told Mr. Kaifu.
Although a coalition of opposition parties, led by Ms. Doi's Socialists, controls the upper house of the Diet, most Japanese commentators have said they expect the Komeito, the second-largest opposition party and a swing member of the coalition, to provide more than enough votes to assure that Mr. Kaifu's governing Liberal Democrats can pass the bill.
The government still gave no clear answer on one of the most contentious points -- whether the Japanese peacekeeping units would be permitted to carry even sidearms.
The outline asserted that, in order to remain consistent with the war-renouncing constitution, the personnel would be used "without involving the threat or use of force."
The plan announced yesterday calls for a "United Nations Peace Cooperation Corps," organized directly under the prime minister's office and with a headquarters and command structure separate from the Self-Defense Forces, Japan's military.