TOKYAO — TOKYO -- Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu asked Japan's parliament yesterday for a new law letting him send soldiers to the Persian Gulf and to future hot spots where the United Nations works to "restore peace."
"This crisis is a major time of testing for Japan and the most severe trial we have faced since the end of the war," Mr. Kaifu told the two houses of the Diet, which has been called into a special session primarily to help set policy in response to Iraq's seizure of Kuwait.
Japanese newspapers billed the talk in advance as one of the central policy speeches of Mr. Kaifu's term in office.
But after more than two months of trying, and more than two weeks after announcing agreement on the general provisions, the government was still unable to produce a draft of the bill for the opening of the 30-day session.
The government has been torn for weeks between officials who favor and oppose using the gulf crisis to break through postwar taboos on the dispatch of Japanese soldiers overseas.
The Japan Socialist Party, the largest opposition party, for years opposed the very existence of the forces and has declared that it will lead the fight against any bill that would legalize sending troops overseas in any form for any purpose.
Mr. Kaifu's speech was barren of details of the proposed bill, save for a promise that Japanese troops would be sent "without the use or threat of force," as is required by the war-renouncing constitution the country adopted at the insistence of the U.S. occupation authorities after World War II.
The lack of details left Mr. Kaifu to depend on his widely acknowledged rhetorical skills, and the tone and content of his speech suggested that it was meant at least in part to give an impression of reclaimed authority after the months of disarray.
"We must never forget that Japan has been one of the prime beneficiaries of the world without war, and it is only when the world is at peace that a resource-poor trading nation such as Japan can enjoy the benefits of prosperity," he said.
Relentless quarreling among government bureaucrats and between factions within Mr. Kaifu's governing Liberal VTC Democratic Party have blocked all attempts to give any semblance of coherence to either foreign or domestic policy.
Only under increasingly outspoken pressure from Washington did the Cabinet put forth last month the loose outlines of a plan to provide $2 billion in logistical and material support to the forces facing Iraq in the gulf and another $2 billion to countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan that are hurt economically by the U.N. embargo on trade with Baghdad.
Appealing now to idealism, now to patriotism, Mr. Kaifu seemed yesterday to be reaching for themes that would transcend the bureaucrats' and factions' objections, many of which have seemed to deal more with turf protection than with foreign policy.
"Japan is a much more important world presence than most of us realize," Mr. Kaifu said near the end of his half-hour speech.
"In my talks with world leaders . . . I was impressed with the great expectations that the world holds of Japan. Japan is today a leading member of the international community, and it is imperative that we act as a truly international state befitting that status."