Japan Requests Permission to Participate in Annapolis Summit

Foreign Ministry sources say they are inclined to support request, as Tokyo tries to play bigger role in Mideast.

TOKYO - Japan has recently requested Washington and Jerusalem to allow it to participate in the international peace conference in Annapolis, scheduled to take place next month, senior Japanese diplomats told Haaretz last week.

Sources from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said they were inclined to support Japan's request.

Israeli-Japanese relations have seen a significant rapprochement in the past few years, after a long cold spell that stemmed from Japan's fear of an Arab oil embargo because of its relations with Israel.

After the 1991 Madrid conference, relations between the two countries started to warm up. Japan is also one of the most generous donor states for the Palestinian Authority. Recently, former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Israel on the first day of the Second Lebanon War.

Before that, Japan's foreign minister attempted to promote a regional industrial project for Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians. Japan was willing to put up $150 million to fund the venture. President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have both recently visited Tokyo.

Senior officials at the Japanese Foreign Ministry say the government is seeking to show more involvement in the Middle East. One possible incentive, according to these officials, is becoming a veto-wielding member at the United Nations Security Council.

"For years, Japan has given money but no one remembered. The lesson is that giving money is not enough, we have to be seen," one senior official told Haaretz. "Stability in the Middle East is important to Japan's stability as well," another official said, acknowledging Japan's reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

"During the oil crisis, Tokyo didn't have a choice," the official said. "We had to side with the Arabs because we realized that was the only way to ensure [our receiving] Arab oil. But things have changed since then, and we want to present a balanced approach."