Australia's prime minister said he plans to assure his Japanese counterpart when they meet Wednesday that Australian troops guarding a Japanese humanitarian mission in Iraq will stay as long as needed. Australian soldiers provide security for about 600 Japanese soldiers working on water purification and infrastructure repair in southern Iraq.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard was scheduled to meet Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday on the fringes of the first East Asia Summit, which groups their countries with 14 others in the region. Howard said Tuesday the he would repeat his assurances that those troops will stay as long as needed, but said he wanted to learn of Japan's long-term deployment plans. "We've worked very closely in partnership on this issue over the past few months. And I'd like that to go on for so long as it's necessary, remembering always that both countries are there at the invitation of the people of Iraq," Howard said.
Howard said the length of the Japanese deployment depended on the speed at which conditions in Iraq improve, with the goal being to "secure transition of power and authority and security to the people of Iraq." Tokyo last week extended the troops' deployment for one year, defying rising domestic opposition to the mission, reports the AP. N.U.