Press Conferences

Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI Toshimitsu

Tuesday, August 31, 2021, 11:59 a.m. Ministry of Foreign Affairs

(Video) Press Conference by Foreign Minister MOTEGI
This is a provisional translation by an external company for reference purpose only.

Opening Remarks

Meeting with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate (SPEC) Kerry

Mr. MOTEGI Toshimitsu, Minister for Foreign Affairs: My meeting with SPEC Kerry ran a little late, so I apologize that this press conference is beginning a little late as well.

I just had a meeting with SPEC Kerry, who is visiting Japan.

In regard to the details of the meeting, I stated that climate change is an extremely important global challenge and that Japan will lead efforts for global de-carbonization, together with the United States, looking ahead to COP26 and beyond. I also stated that innovation to realize ambitious emissions targets is important, and that I would like to cooperate with the United States.

SPEC Kerry responded by introducing the U.S. administration's efforts to date in the area of climate change and his plans for future activities.

SPEC Kerry plans to visit China after this. We discussed that it is important for major emitters, such as China, and developing countries to cooperate in emissions reduction efforts.

Since China is the largest global emitter of CO2 and is the world’s second largest economy, I believe it is extremely important that we urge China to firmly take responsibility in line with its size.

SPEC Kerry and I agreed that Japan and the United States will continue to closely cooperate and collaborate toward global decarbonization, including through the Japan-U.S. Climate Partnership and the Quad (Japan-U.S.-Australia-India). That is all from me.

Situation in Afghanistan (Withdrawal of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) from Afghanistan)

NHK, Yamamoto: I would like to ask about the situation in Afghanistan. President Biden announced that the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan has completed. Please tell us your reaction to this. Also, will the SDF personnel dispatched to Afghanistan be withdrawn from the country?

Minister Motegi: The U.S. forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan, but there are various people, including local staff of various countries’ embassies, who are still in Afghanistan and wish to leave. It was agreed to firmly support the safe departure of these people during the G7 ministerial meeting with Qatar, Turkey, the EU, and NATO held last night. We must continue to monitor the situation on the ground.

We are considering what methods can be taken for safe evacuation while monitoring the control of the Kabul airport as well as how safety is ensured around the airport.

In a way, on August 31, I believe we are passed the phase of evacuation operations centered on troops and have entered into a new phase. I believe that the withdrawal of the SDF will also be decided amid such shift in phase.

Situation in Afghanistan (Status of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Japan)

Pan Orient News, Azhari: What is the status of the Afghanistan Embassy and Ambassador in Tokyo, given the latest development? Status of Afghanistan Embassy in Tokyo.

Minister Motegi: I believe your question is about the situation of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Japan and the status of the Ambassador. At this point, we have not received any particular communication from the Afghani side, and I believe there is no change to the status of the Embassy of Afghanistan in Japan and the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Japan.

Situation in Afghanistan (Effects on Japan-Middle East Relations)

Pan Orient News, Azhari: Mr. Motegi, you had a very long visit to the Middle East. It was very fruitful according to the report. Now, my question is how would Afghanistan's situation going to impact Japan's relations with some Middle East countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey?

Minister Motegi: Centered on the week before last for about 10 days, I visited eight countries and regions, including Palestine, beginning with Egypt.

My visit took place at the timing right when the situation in Afghanistan was growing tense and changing faster than what the United States and probably what various countries had expected. I began my visit in Egypt and had successive days of discussions on matters such as analyses of the situations in various countries, and concerns the neighboring Middle Eastern countries have. Evacuation operations for Japanese nationals and local personnel were also being conducted, so I kept close contact with MOFA headquarters during my 10 days visit. I believe that stability in Afghanistan continues to be an important matter for the peace and stability of the Middle East as well as the international community.

During my visit to the Middle East, I agreed with Turkey, which is a major power in the Middle East and has strong ties to Afghanistan, as well as Iran to cooperate so that the current situation in Afghanistan does not become a factor of further instability.

I often heard concerns that the Taliban’s actions would send a wrong message to terrorist organizations outside of Afghanistan and in other regions. During the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which was held online when I was in Jordan, I shared these concerns various Middle Eastern countries have.

Japan will closely cooperate with relevant countries, including Middle Eastern countries, to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed for terrorism again, to avoid the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country, and to protect the rights of women and others.

The situation is changing even at this moment. That is certain. The situation one month ago, half a month ago, and now are all different. No one is certain what will happen two weeks from now.

Various countries are communicating with the Taliban and I am aware of what is being discussed. We will respond by observing how the words are translated into action, and not just words.

As I mentioned before, there are still people, including local staff of many countries and not just Japan, who wish to leave Afghanistan. I believe that the most important job continues to be providing support for the safe evacuations of these people.

In addition, the Embassy of Japan in Afghanistan as well as many other countries’ embassies are temporarily closed now. I visited the temporary office located in Istanbul, Turkey. Having discussed with various countries, I believe that Doha, Qatar will probably have a political presence. The Taliban have established a political office there, and I believe various forms of communication will take place there. I believe that Japan will consider moving our hub from Istanbul to Qatar as well as Ambassador Okada.

Furthermore, when we think about terrorism countermeasures, I believe that it is extremely important for the Taliban to sever ties with terrorist organizations. The international community must properly urge the Taliban in one unified voice.

In addition, as humanitarian issues and food shortages arise and there are many evacuees and internally displaced persons, it is firstly important to ensure the safety and access of the humanitarian aid personnel of international organizations and NGOs. I believe this issue is not something that could be finished in one month.

In that sense, I believe that long-term, continuous efforts would be needed for humanitarian aid and the like. Japan will work in close cooperation with relevant countries on humanitarian aid while monitoring the future development of the situation in Afghanistan.

Situation in Afghanistan (Dispatch of the SDF)

Asahi Shimbun, Sugawara: Although it might be a little early, I would like to ask about your current opinion. The Government of Japan decided to dispatch the SDF to Afghanistan on August 23. At this point, what is your view when it comes to whether the timing of the dispatch request from MOFA to the Ministry of Defense (MOD) was appropriate, or whether it needed to be a little earlier?

Minister Motegi: Firstly, as President Biden himself stated, the reality is that it was completely not expected, for example, that the Afghani government would collapse in 11 days. How many people in other governments and the mass media had predicted the current development? There are probably some who say that they had predicted this, but as far as I know, no one in major countries had predicted such a rapid development.

Amidst this situation, as the security situation in Afghanistan rapidly worsened, in early August, the Government of Japan began working on formulating an evacuation plan for Japanese nationals and others, including on whether charter planes could be used and about the dispatch of SDF aircraft, to realize its utmost important goal of quickly and safely evacuating Japanese nationals, as well as evacuating local embassy and JICA staff as much as possible.

However, on August 15, due to the offensive by the Taliban, the city of Kabul fell at a speed which had not been predicted even by the United States. The functions of Kabul airport were considerably restricted, including restrictions on civil aircraft operations. At the same time, the United States decided not to extend its withdrawal deadline, so the reality was that we had to proceed with the evacuation plan within extremely tight schedule.

Although civil aircraft operations were suspended, countries such as NATO-related countries which had already dispatched their forces to Afghanistan were continuing evacuation operations using military aircraft. In cooperation with related countries including the United States, Japan was able to use foreign military aircraft to firstly evacuate embassy staff as they were facing considerably urgent danger. At the same time, Japan cooperated with relevant countries to ensure the safety of transport, and dispatched SDF aircraft at an extremely early timing, although I do not know how fast we were compared to other countries which dispatched their military. If we compare with past Japan’s decision-making record, the decision to dispatch the SDF was made swiftly, the SDF was dispatched to Islamabad, and the operation to secure slots between Islamabad and Kabul was completed, and the evacuation deadline was set. After the deadline to conduct the operations were set, the evacuation proceeded on the safest days using the safest methods at the best timing. I do not think that there were problems until then. However, unfortunately on August 26, incidents including a suicide bombing at the airport occurred and dozens of cars were stalled at Taliban checkpoints. I am not saying that this was completely unpredictable, but the probability of it happening so soon was not as high.

When we considered what dangers could arise in using means of transport arranged by Japan for many people, I do not think we could have made the decision to go ahead and implement any plans at that time. I believe that such a decision should not have been made.

As a result, on the next day, the security situation at the airport deteriorated further and inspections became stricter. Local staff are still unable to evacuate. Looking at the situation, we want to continue to exert all efforts to support the evacuation of local staff. However, amidst this situation which is changing minute by minute, I do not think that we were late in considering what methods Japan could take and ultimately deciding to dispatch the SDF. The SDF went to Islamabad with plenty of time for evacuation, secured landing and takeoff slots, ensured the means of transport, and carried out the operations, but the circumstances I just described arose. We strongly condemn such circumstances which came with casualties. We also believe it is regrettable that Afghani people who wish to evacuate are still unable to do so due to such circumstances.

Situation in Afghanistan (Limitations of the Self-Defense Forces Act)

Jiji Press, Kondo: I would like to ask related questions. Please tell us whether restrictions in the Self-Defense Forces Act, which is the foundation act, made it difficult to conduct some activities for the evacuation operations. Moreover, some members of the ruling party have mentioned that the act needs to be revised. What is your view on that point?

Minister Motegi: I believe that point should be discussed thoroughly within the SDF, the government, and the Diet. The reality is that it is unfortunately difficult for the SDF to leave the Kabul airport, and, for example, take Japanese or foreign nationals from within Kabul city to the airport because the SDF is not allowed such duty under the current Act.

Situation in Afghanistan (Effects of Foreign Minister Motegi’s Visit to the Middle East)

Asahi Shimbun, Sugawara: I would like to ask a question for confirmation. The timing from the fall of Kabul to the decision to dispatch the SDF occurred during your visit to the Middle East along with the Director-General in charge. Please tell us your view on whether the fact ministry leaders being overseas affected the response to the series of circumstances, and whether it was possible to decide to end the visit halfway.

Minister Motegi: Which era are you talking about? The Meiji period? We can use Wi-Fi, right? We can use Wi-Fi even on planes. We were communicating every day.

It was beneficial to directly speak with the major countries of the Middle East and ask about the local situation, what Turkey could do, or with Qatar, which has the deepest ties with the Taliban, what the Taliban is trying to do. I believe there were no communication problems.

There is time difference, so people are asleep at different times. But comparatively I stay awake and I do not sleep in times of need such as these.

Isn’t it a little old-fashioned to think that you cannot communicate if you are overseas?

Asahi Shimbun, Sugawara: I understand. So you believe that your overseas visit did not cause particular obstacles in the ministry’s decision-making process?

Minister Motegi: I have just given you the answer.

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