Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, responding in writing to questions from Haaretz yesterday ahead of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Tokyo, kept to the Japanese tradition of understatement and elegant stepping over pitfalls. Nevertheless, Fukuda did not hide his displeasure with the slow rate of implementation of the road map, including the evacuation of outposts and the extent of Israel's cooperation with the Palestinian Authority donor states, including Japan, in rehabilitating the economy in the territories. Japan's relationship with Iran, planted by springs of oil, does not soften Fukuda's stance with regard to Tehran's nuclear plans.
How would you advise Israel to deal with the radical Islamic threat from Iran, Lebanon and Hamas from Gaza?
"I understand that the most serious concern for the security of Israel is Iran. The international community should be united to respond resolutely to the nuclear development by Iran, in terms of maintaining the international regime for non-proliferation and stability in the Middle East.
"It is important for a peaceful and diplomatic solution of the issue that the international community sends out a united message, including resolutions by the United Nations Security Council, and also that it works on Iran with perseverance.
"Islamic extremism is one of the largest destabilizing factors in the Middle East. Islamic extremists may continue their attempts of provocation to undermine the progress in the peace process. It is important, however, to respond to these attempts, so as not to boost these extremists.
"It is also important to promote peace with the Palestinians, and to continue to pursue co-existence and co-prosperity with all the people in the region. Japan, as a member of the international community, would like to contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East."
What role can Japan play in saving the peace process, given your good relations with Israel and the Arab world?
"Japan has played its unique role in the peace process through (1) political dialogue, (2) assistance to Palestinians, and (3) confidence-building, taking advantage of its amicable relationship with both Israel and Arab countries.
"I would like to express sincere support for the efforts of Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert and [Palestinian] President [Mahmoud] Abbas toward peace, on behalf of the Japanese Government, and also as the chair of the G8 summit in 2008. Peace and stability in the Middle East is important for Japan and also for the international community as a whole.
"I am looking forward to exchanging views with Prime Minister Olmert, not only on the situation in the Middle East, but on the situation in Asia and global issues as well.
"As for the political dialogue, I will closely exchange views with Prime Minister Olmert, on the promotion of the peace process on the occasion of his visit. Also, I will send my special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Ambassador [Tatsuo] Arima, who has visited Israel and the Palestinian territories many times, whenever necessary to encourage both sides to facilitate the peace process.
"As for the assistance to the Palestinians, the total amount of Japan's assistance since 1993 is more than $900 million, and Japan will continue the assistance toward the establishment of the state of Palestine, living in co-existence and co-prosperity alongside Israel.
"As for the confidence-building, Japan is planning to hold a fourth meeting on confidence-building shortly in Tokyo, inviting Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
"After the Annapolis conference, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas are making their efforts to conclude a peace treaty before the end of this year. We believe it is important that the commitments in the road map be implemented immediately, including improvement of security measures and dismantling settlement outposts by the Israeli side.
"We also expect to see tangible progress in the peace negotiations. If tangible progress in the peace process is brought, the position of President Abbas, who has devoted himself to the efforts toward peace, would be strengthened, and this would prevent the spread of extremism in the Palestinian territories and the Middle East as a whole, and eventually would show hope toward stabilization and prosperity.
"Japan will support the efforts by Israelis and Palestinians to the maximum extent possible.
"Japan is now focusing on promoting the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity, as an integrated effort of the three aspects mentioned above - political dialogue, economic assistance to Palestinians, and confidence building - bringing good relationships with both parties concerned and past experience as its valuable assets.
"The purpose of this concept is to support the establishment of a viable Palestinian economy through economic development in the Jordan valley. Under this concept, the project for the construction of the Agro-Industrial Park in Jericho is underway, where agricultural products for export will be produced and exported through Jordan.
"The unique aspect of this project is that it is based on the cooperation among four parties - Japanese, Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians. This project would not succeed without the cooperation of Israel. Therefore, this project also contributes to strengthening the confidence among parties. On the occasion of PM Olmert's visit, I would like to reaffirm his strong political commitment to the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity.
"Japan would like to contribute to creating better conditions for the promotion of the process toward achieving peace, as a nation of peace cooperation."
Japan is one of the most generous donor countries to participate in the Paris conference. Arab and European donors have decided to withhold funds until Israel starts removing checkpoints and illegal outposts that stymie the free movement of people and goods, which is essential for economic recovery. What is Japan's attitude in this regard?
"Following the commitment of Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas to make every effort to conclude a peace treaty by the end of 2008, the Government of Japan, at the Donor Conference in Paris last December, pledged the assistance for the time being of $150 million for the establishment of the state of Palestine, which will live in co-existence and co-prosperity with Israel.
"More specifically, Japan has been considering implementing the assistance as soon as possible, mainly for the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan (PRDP), for the realization of the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity, and for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians, in order to bring about a concrete improvement in the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Therefore, Japan decided to provide Emergency Grant Aid of $10 million to support the public medical institutions in Jenin, Tul Karm and Qalqilyah in the West Bank.
"At the same time, it is extremely important to remove restrictions on movement and access for people and goods, to enable smooth and effective implementation of the assistance to Palestinians, and to promote Palestinian economic development. To promote the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity, Japan has already begun talks with the Israeli side, and we will continue to ask their cooperation. Japan will also closely coordinate with other donor countries, since movement and access is a common issue to be addressed by all the donors.
How would you characterize bilateral relations between Israel and Japan?
"The forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Olmert to Japan will be the first visit of an Israeli Prime Minister to Japan in 11 years. I hope this visit will give great momentum toward further strengthening bilateral relations. Israeli business leaders will accompany the prime minister, and I hope the visit will deepen the economic relations between our two countries.
"The current economic relations do not reflect the economic strength of the two nations. Bilateral trade makes up only 0.5 percent of Japan's trade and 2.4 percent of Israel's trade.
"The level of human exchange also is still low, and although the number of Japanese citizens who visit Israel is increasing, the actual number who visited Israel in 2007 was still only 10,837. Economic exchange between two countries, however, has been growing in recent years. Advanced Israeli technologies are highly regarded by Japanese business. Wines produced in Israel are now drawing more attention in Japan.
"Israeli culture is becoming more and more popular among the Japanese. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mr. Zubin Mehta, achieved tremendous success in Japan last year. The Sakura Grand Prix of Tokyo International Film Festival was awarded to 'The Band's Visit,' which was produced in Israel.
"On the occasion of the prime minister's visit, I am looking forward to strengthening the relationship between the two countries in various fields, including economic, cultural, academic and human exchanges, as well as high-level political dialogue."
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