Chapter III.
Regional Developments

F. The Middle East

More than 80% of the crude oil imported by Japan comes from the Middle East region. Not only is the Middle East a vitally important region for Japan in terms of securing a stable energy supply, but it is of great significance for the peace and stability of the entire international community from the perspective of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Based on such recognition, Japan has been strengthening its relations with the Middle East and has been actively involved in ensuring the peace and stability of the entire region.

a) The Middle East peace process

The current Middle East peace process, which began in 1991, has achieved important results, including the launching of the Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority and conclusion of the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty. However, progress began to stall under Israel's Netanyahu Administration, which came into power in 1996. Mediation by U.S. President Clinton resulted in formation of the Wye River Memorandum in October 1998, but subsequent controversy within the Israeli Government effectively froze implementation of the agreement and brought the peace process to a standstill once more. The Palestinians made clear their intention to unilaterally declare independence of a Palestinian State on 4 May 1999, which provoked fierce Israeli opposition and the peace process was threatened with breakdown. The resumption of the negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks remained pending and fighting continued to flare intermittently in southern Lebanon.

Responding to this situation, Foreign Minister Koumura visited Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank Gaza and Israel in January; he delivered to the Palestinian Council the first speech by a Japanese Minister on Japan's policy for the Middle East peace process, and made four concrete proposals on the southern Lebanon issue, urged further progress by the parties involved in the peace process, and explained Japan's course to support the peace process. Japan later invited Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara to Japan in March, and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak in April, calling upon these key figures to make further efforts for peace.

In May, responding to the opinion of the international community including Japan, the Palestinians delayed their unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian State, while Israel conducted its general elections without major disturbance. Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who beat out Prime Minister Netanyahu at the election, established a coalition government in July, consisting mainly of centrists and the left-wing parties, who were in favor of promoting the peace process. Immediately after his appointment, Prime Minister Barak indicated his intention to advance all negotiation tracks, which were with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon, and after rocky negotiations, Israel and the Palestinians reached the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum in September. The agreement indicated both parties' intention to implement the Wye River Memorandum, resume the Permanent Status negotiations, reach a Framework agreement on the Final Status issues by the date of 13 February 2000, and conclude a final comprehensive agreement by that of 13 September. Through U.S. mediation, the long-awaited resumption of Israel-Syria negotiations too occurred on 15 December after about a four-year break, with the first direct negotiations conducted between Prime Minister Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister al-Shara.

Japan has been seizing various opportunities to urge the parties concerned to work toward peace, as well as providing economic assistance to the parties concerned in order to develop an environment conducive to peace, with a view to playing a role in promoting the Middle East peace process, currently reaching an unprecedented window of opportunity to achieve a fair, lasting and comprehensive peace. Japan has provided more than US$500 million in assistance to the Palestinians, while in October, Foreign Minister Kono jointly chaired the Tokyo Meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for the Assistance to the Palestinian People, working to boost the political momentum to advance the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. During the state visit to Japan of King Abdullah Il Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan in December, Japan also announced that it would provide Jordan with around US$400 million in assistance over the next three years, noting that Jordan has been playing a pioneering role in the peace process and maintaining close relations with both Israel and the Palestinians. Since 1996, Japan has been dispatching its personnel to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights as part of its human contribution. Japan has been also actively participating in multilateral negotiations in such areas as environment, where it acts as gavel-holder of the Environmental Working Group, tourism and water resources.

b) Iraq

Following the refusal of the Iraqi Government to cooperate in inspections and monitoring by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), which has been working for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction, U.S. and UK forces carried out air strikes against Iraq in December 1998. As the Iraqi Government continued its refusal to cooperate, the UN Security Council spent approximately a year deliberating on responses to the situation, resulting in the adoption on 17 December 1999 of UN Security Council Resolution 1284. This comprehensive resolution provided for, among other things, the establishment of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Committee (UNMOVIC) in place of UNSCOM, and it also introduced the concept of suspension of sanctions. However, the Iraqi Government has expressed strong dissatisfaction over Resolution 1284, and difficulties are anticipated in its implementation.

As a result of the United Nations sanctions that have been in place for more than nine years, Iraq has been facing increasingly serious economic problems, including commodity shortages. Accordingly, the "Oil for Food" program has been implemented since December 1996 in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution. The program allows Iraq to export limited amounts of its petroleum to fund the purchase of humanitarian supplies such as food and medicine, and this program has since been renewed and extended. The amount of oil which Iraq may export has been steadily increased (the above-mentioned Resolution 1284 having eliminated the export ceiling), and imports of humanitarian goods have also increased, but no major improvement has yet been made in large-scale infrastructure such as waterworks and sewage, medical facilities and power transmission facilities, which long years of war have weakened and destroyed.

c) Iran

President Seyed Mohammad Khatami, who assumed the presidency in August 1997, has espoused a political course which includes the rule of law, freedom of speech, and dialogue among civilizations, and has worked to alleviate tension with other countries and reform Iran toward the establishment of a civil society which tolerates diverse values and debate. Public opinion is heavily in favor of the advance of these reforms, and under this reform trend, students held massive demonstrations calling for greater freedom of speech. In tandem with the progress of domestic reforms, Iran's relations with the international community have been improving in recent years, particularly with the European and Persian Gulf countries. Some slight improvement has also emerged in relations with the United States, but because of domestic politics in both countries no major changes were observed in 1999.

Japan has traditionally attached importance to its relations with Iran, and is working to maintain friendly cooperative relations, while also having dialogue to urge Iran to develop more constructive relations with the international community, and thus to contribute to the stability of the region. Foreign Minister Koumura's visit to Iran in August produced an announcement on additional yen loans for dam construction, a pending issue for both countries. First Vice Speaker of the Majles (Iranian Parliament) Dr. Hassan Rouhani also visited Japan in October, with high-level bilateral ties deepening.

d) Gulf Cooperation Council countries and other Gulf countries

Since the world, and particularly Asia, is expected to depend increasingly heavily on the Middle East for its energy in the future, contributing to peace and stability in the Gulf region and deepening friendly ties with the region will also be a crucial issue in ensuring a stable energy supply.

Based on the November 1997 visit of Prime Minister Hashimoto to Saudi Arabia and the visit of his special envoy to the other GCC countries, Japan is actively promoting the strengthening of political dialogue with these countries, the development of greater economic interdependence, and the construction of comprehensive friendly and cooperative relations beyond the bilateral level in economic, political and new areas (education and human resources development, the environment, health and scientific technology, culture and sports).

Looking at the Gulf countries overall, 1999 was a year of steady progress in high-level exchange. In addition to the above visits by key figures, Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh came to Japan in March, followed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar in April, while Minister of International Trade and Industry Kaoru Yosano visited Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait in April, with deepening relations at working level bringing concrete progress in promoting and strengthening exchanges between the two sides.

When the Amir of Bahrain, His Highness Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, passed away in March, Senior State Secretary Nobutaka Machimura was dispatched as a special envoy to express Japan's condolences. The young new Amir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has taken over the reins of the country, increasing the crop of young leaders emerging around the Gulf countries.

e) The passing of King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan and King Hassan II of Morocco

King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan passed away on 7 February. He was highly respected by the international community for his achievements in bringing about regional peace and stability, including the conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, and representatives from 64 countries came to express their condolences at his funeral on 8 February, including Heads of State and Government from 45 countries. Japan was represented by Their Imperial Highnesses the Crown Prince and Princess, and Prime Minister Obuchi. Following the passing of King Hussein, Crown Prince Abdullah Il Bin Al-Hussain was enthroned as the new King.

In Morocco, King Hassan II passed away on 23 July. The late King contributed significantly to the prosperity of Morocco and the stability of North Africa and the Middle East, and His Imperial Highness Prince Takamado and Senior Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto attended his funeral to express Japan's condolences, alongside the U.S. and French Presidents and other leaders and eminent figures. With the death of King Hassan I, Prince Sidi Mohammed was enthroned as King Mohammed VI.

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