As Japan Warms Ties with Israel, Its Leaders Meet with PLO Official

A senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization was in Tokyo last week for meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita and Foreign Minister Sosuke Uno.

Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the PLO’s political department, repeated his call for Japan to help “activate the peace process.”

In a 25-minute meeting last week, Takeshita told Kaddoumi that Japan will work through international organizations to help achieve peace in the Middle East.

At a time when the Japanese government has stated its intention of improving bilateral relations with Israel, Japan’s cozy relationship with the PLO remains a major irritant.

A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official recently made clear that even though Japan is warming toward Israel, there has been no change in the privileged status which the PLO has been accorded in Japan.

“The Japanese government does not consider the PLO a terrorist organization,” explained Yasuki Ono, deputy director of the First Middle East Division. “We have good relations with the PLO and support what they are trying to do.”

Ono’s comments may come as a surprise to a working party set up in another branch of the Japanese government that specializes in anti-terrorist tactics. This group was established before the Olympics in Seoul to counter terrorism in Asia.

CONCERN ABOUT ANTAGONIZING ARABS

In fact, a representative of the group recently approached Israeli sources in Tokyo in the hope of sharing anti-terrorism information.

Diplomatic sources in Tokyo suspect that Kaddoumi’s visit to Tokyo was quietly engineered by the Japanese government, a charge the Foreign Ministry denies.

Japan in 1981 became the first major non-Communist country to host PLO leader Yasir Arafat. Since then, the Japanese government has catered to the PLO’s agenda and bowed to Arab pressure, according to Professor Takeshi Muramatsu of Tsukuba University, a leading Japanese Middle East analyst.

At the time that Arafat was invited to Japan, neither his terrorist connections nor his ties to the Soviet Union were known here. Muramatsu explained that when Arafat’s history became apparent, the Japanese government thought it was too late to call off the visit.

A behind-the-scenes decision was made that Arafat would meet then-Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki at the Diet, Japan’s parliament, and not at his office, to downgrade the visit.

Kaddoumi, however, met Takeshita this week at the prime minister’s official residence, a privilege usually reserved for foreign heads of state or senior government officials.

Japan’s reluctance to anger the PLO is not based so much on ideology as on intimidation and concern about offending Arab nations, whom the Japanese rely on for oil.

Japanese foreign ministers make a point of attending the annual Palestine Day celebrations in Tokyo as a gesture of solidarity. But in the last decade, only one Japanese foreign minister has attended American Independence Day celebrations here, despite Japan’s claim that the U.S.-Japan alliance is the most important two-way tie in the free world.

When Foreign Minister Uno became the first Japanese minister ever to visit Israel in June, he made a pledge of $500,000 in aid for refugees through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.

Diplomats connected with the Arab community say that a current source of friction between the Japanese and Arab embassies here is that the PLO’s office in Tokyo has not been upgraded to embassy status since it was opened in 1977.

This request is not unusual within the Japanese context. Unlike most modern democracies, Japan treats its local PLO representative, for most diplomatic purposes, like the ambassador of a major country.

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