JAPAN ``bit the bullet'' a second time on Saturday to come up with an added $3 billion for anti-Iraq tasks in the Middle East. The first ``bullet,'' as Finance Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto referred to it, was $1 billion announced on Aug. 29. At the time, he said Japan had done its ``utmost.''
But a second package was offered as Washington asked for more support and the United States House of Representatives threatened to reduce spending on Japan's defense.
Half of the promised $4 billion total will support US-led multinational troops. But rather than give the money directly to the US, Japan hopes to channel it through the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-member regional alliance of Arab nations. The other half will go to help Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan sustain economic losses caused by the trade blockade against Iraq.
``To avoid a direct blow on people's lives, it is important that the Middle East recover as soon as possible,'' said Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. As an ``exceptional measure,'' $600 million will be given quickly to the three nations as a loan, with 1 percent interest over 30 years. Japan will provide the additional $1.4 billion ``in due course'' depending on the situation, says Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto.
Japanese officials refer to the $4 billion package as a ``sacrifice,'' but necessary for Japan to keep pace with international expectations of its role as an economic superpower.
The second package came just one day after the US House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding that Japan pay all the expenses of American troops in Japan or risk a pullout of 5,000 US troops a year. Foreign Ministry spokesman Taizo Watanabe said that ``If they [House members] had known the magnitude of the total package of contribution measures which we have announced today, they would know how serious Japan is in trying to cooperate with the United States and other countries in keeping the peace and security in that region, even at the sacrifice of our own finances.''
If Japan does decide to pay all the expenses of US troops, said Keigo Ouchi, chairman of the Democratic Socialist Party, ``US troops would be hired soldiers.''
Mr. Kaifu had promised more than money for the Gulf effort, but so far only a team of 17 medical workers have enlisted to go to the area and a few commercial planes are being chartered to rescue Asian refugees in Jordan.
Kaifu will be meeting with President Bush in New York in late September during a United Nations conference on children. By then, Kaifu hopes that he will have gained consensus among legislators to ensure passage of a proposed ``United Nations Peace Cooperation Law'' that would allow Japanese troops to be sent to the Gulf.
Politicians are debating now whether such troops should go in uniform, or be reassigned to a civilian ministry and go as ``nonmilitary'' workers. Opposition leader Takako Doi of the Socialist Party criticized the proposal to dispatch military forces, citing possible reaction from Asians who harbor memories of Japan's brutal acts during World War II.
After his meeting with Mr. Bush, Kaifu is scheduled to make a trip to five Middle East nations. The trip was postponed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, partly out of concern it might jeopardize Japanese hostages.