Japan, Australia corroborate military cooperation in Iraq

Japan won praise from Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Wednesday for deciding to extend its military mission in Iraq for one year. In a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the sidelines of an Asian summit here, Howard welcomed the move and promised to continue close cooperation while Japanese troops remain in Iraq, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Howard also urged that a meeting among officials from the United States, Japan and Australia be held soon to discuss security issues, the statement said. Details on when the meeting will be held were still undecided.

"Japan also considers dialogue on security as important. Let's continue to cooperate on this," Koizumi was quoted as telling Howard. Howard later told reporters that Australian troops guarding a Japanese humanitarian mission in Iraq will stay as long as needed, a pledge that he has often reiterated.

Australian soldiers provide security for about 600 Japanese soldiers working on water purification and infrastructure repair in southern Iraq. Japan extended the deployment last week.

"Australia will maintain its presence there to provide security to the Japanese. That doesn't mean to say we will automatically stay beyond the Japanese tour, but equally I am not suggesting that once the Japanese go, we go," Howard said.

"We both agreed that the goal must be to have Iraq stand on its own feet so that foreign forces can withdraw," he said. Australia is guarding Tokyo's troops because Japanese military action is limited under the U.S.-drafted constitution after World War II that bans Japan from offensive military action, reports the AP. I.L.

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