Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories early next year to further the Middle East peace process, a top official said Monday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Koizumi would also visit Turkey during the trip, which is apparently part of government efforts to raise Japan's diplomatic profile. Abe said a schedule was still being worked out. Kyodo News agency reported last week that Koizumi would meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian territories, possibly organizing a three-party summit. Koizumi will stop in Turkey for talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key U.S. ally, to demonstrate Japan's support of Washington's policy in the region, Kyodo said.
"The world has very high interest in the Mideast peace process, and the peace process is not unrelated to Japan," Koizumi told a group of reporters Monday. "We would like to consider what Japan can do and also listen to the other sides' opinion."
Japan has tried to improve its standing in international politics, campaigning, so far unsuccessfully, to win a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council together with India, Germany and Brazil.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has also proposed a constitutional change that would create an official role for the Japanese military, enabling it to assist military allies and help with armed international peacekeeping.
It would be the first visit by a Japanese leader to the Middle East in a decade. Then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama toured Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Israel, the Gaza Strip and Jordan in 1995, reports the AP. I.L.