The future of the Middle East hinges on whether we can offer it real hope. Japan, a staunch member of the international coalition against terrorism, and with its close economic ties to the Middle East, has a keen interest in the region.
During a recent visit, I urged Palestinian leaders to halt any terrorist activities, while urging Israeli leaders to withdraw their troops immediately from the autonomous areas.
I offered an outline, intended as an incentive for peace: At each important juncture of the political process - for example, the end of violence and the resumption of dialogue, then the start of peace negotiations - Japan can consider an evolving menu of assistance.
At the Group of Eight foreign ministers' meeting last week in Whistler, British Columbia, I proposed establishing a coordination mechanism for assisting reform of the Palestinian Authority. Japan, as one of the principal donors to the Palestinians, is ready to play a leading role in steering such a mechanism.
Israelis and Palestinians have welcomed a positive Japanese role in the Middle East peace process. It is important to prevent the spread of conflict to neighboring countries. In fact, we have already contributed political endeavors in this regard. At the beginning of May, I visited Iran and urged its leaders to use their influence over certain elements in southern Lebanon to terminate violence. In addition, I have sent a special envoy to Syria and Lebanon to solicit their constructive roles.
Needless to say, the United States plays a key role in the Middle East. Its continued constructive engagement is essential for the peace process to move forward. Japan will unwaveringly support such U.S. engagement.
We also support the convening of an international conference on Middle East peace. It should be held as soon as possible to offer hope for peace.
Japan would like to participate not only in the international conference itself but also in the whole process, so that we can contribute through our vision to such a process and combine such a vision with appropriate forms of assistance.
Japan has a unique experience of recovering from the aftermath of World War II. In a relatively short time it turned itself into a democracy and became one of the largest economies of the world. We can share some of our useful lessons in the political and reconstruction processes.
It is almost a clich? to refer to the interdependence in today's world. No one can deny the reality. Japan may be geographically far from the region, but it is inseparably connected to it. After my recent visit, I am all the more convinced that Japan can play a positive role in the Middle East, where hope is one of the scarcest resources.
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The writer is foreign minister of Japan. Her comments may also be read in the International Herald Tribune issue of June 18, 2002
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