Two days before his scheduled departure, Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu on Monday postponed a trip to five Middle East countries.
An official spokesman said Kaifu will stay in Tokyo and formulate new measures that his government will take in connection with the international effort to restore peace in the Persian Gulf region.
The spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto, said the trip is being put off, probably until early October, so that Kaifu "can take personal charge" and firm up "specific contributions as soon as possible."
It was the first official word of Japan committing itself to take measures in support of the international effort beyond the sanctions it agreed to impose against Iraq and occupied Kuwait on Aug. 5.
Sakamoto mentioned no specific measures that might be considered, nor did Makoto Watanabe, director of the Foreign Ministry's Middle East and African Affairs Bureau, who briefed foreign reporters. Watanabe said no specific requests have been made of Japan. However, some kind of monetary contribution is considered likely.
Essentially, Kaifu decided to postpone the trip because Japan has no specific new ideas to offer.
"When we planned the prime minister's trip, we expected it to serve to deepen cooperation and friendly relations with the Mideast," Watanabe said. "Since then, the situation has changed, and we now feel it is better to visit these countries with substantial means to contribute to international peace efforts (in hand), rather than just make a visit of a general nature."
Such a visit might have been interpreted as an oil-buying mission, leaders of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said. By halting oil imports from Iraq and Kuwait, Japan has deprived itself it of 11% of its petroleum supply.
According to U.S. officials in Tokyo, the decision to postpone the trip came a day after Secretary of Agriculture Clayton K. Yeutter delivered a message urging Kaifu to go ahead with it, saying the visit would constitute a gesture of moral support for the dispatch of U.S. troops to the Mideast. Yeutter met with Kaifu on Sunday.
Takeo Fukuda is the only Japanese prime minister ever to have visited the region. He traveled to Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing Persian Gulf countries in 1978.
Watanabe, asked if Japan might send minesweepers or some other kind of naval support, said, "We will examine all possible measures, while strictly observing the constitution." Japan's constitution has been interpreted as forbidding overseas deployment of troops and weapons.
Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama said flatly that Japan will reject the call by some U.S. Congress members for a Japanese financial contribution to the multinational force.
Watanabe said Nakayama will travel to the five countries that Kaifu had been scheduled to visit--Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Jordan and Egypt--to explain why Kaifu postponed his trip and listen to any requests the leaders might make for additional measures of support. He is expected to leave Friday.
Watanabe said Kaifu will determine what other measures Japan can take after consulting with the United States and other industrial countries and after receiving a report from Nakayama when he returns.
Japan has previously made small monetary contributions to international peacekeeping or election-monitoring missions in the Mideast, as well as in Namibia and Nicaragua.