TOKYO : Vice President Dick Cheney said on 21 February the US wants to finish its mission in Iraq and “return with honour”, despite the war’s growing unpopularity at home and doubts among US allies.
Cheney’s visit to Tokyo comes just weeks after Japan’s defence minister said starting the Iraq war was a mistake and its foreign minister called the US occupation strategy “immature”.
The remarks forced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whom Cheney meets later 21 February, to scurry to reassure Washington that Tokyo’s backing for US policy in Iraq was unchanged.
But a survey released on 20 February showed most Japanese voters agreed with Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma when he said President George W. Bush was wrong to start the war.
“We know that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength, they are invited by the perception of weakness,” Cheney said in a speech aboard the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier at Yokosuka Navy Base near Tokyo.
“We know that if we leave Iraq before the mission is completed, the enemy is going to come after us. And I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat,” he added, as US military personnel applauded.
“We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and we want to return with honor,” said Cheney, who heads on 22 February for Australia to meet Prime Minister John Howard, another staunch supporter of Bush’s Iraq policy.
Bush is sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq, but Democrats in charge of US Congress are pressing for a change in strategy.British media reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair was set to announce 22 February that Britain would start to withdraw its 7,100 troops from Iraq within weeks.
Blair was expected to say the withdrawal reflected Britain’s success in southern Iraq, where control of security is being handed back to Iraqi forces, the media reports said.In talks earlier with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Cheney thanked Japan for the roughly 550 non-combat troops it sent to southern Iraq in 2004 as part of Tokyo’s largest and riskiest overseas mission since World War Two.
The soldiers returned home last July, but about 200 Japanese air force personnel based in Kuwait are still transporting supplies to the US-led coalition in Iraq.Cheney also sought to allay any fears that Washington’s commitment to Japan and the Asia-Pacific would falter.
“The president asked me to make this journey, first to Japan, then to Guam, and then to Australia to reaffirm America’s deep commitment to a forward presence in the Asia-Pacific region,” he said in his speech. The US has about 50,000 troops based in Japan, about half its total military presence in the region.
The two allies agreed last year to reorganize those forces, including shifting 8,000 Marines from Japan’s southern island of Okinawa to the US Pacific territory of Guam by 2014.
Cheney and Shiozaki agreed in their talks that a multilateral energy-for-arms forged in Beijing last week was a step in the right direction, a Japanese statement said.
Cheney expressed understanding for Tokyo’s refusal to provide economic aid to fund the deal until progress is made on resolving a feud over Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North’s agents decades ago, the statement added.
Under the deal among the US, China, Japan, the two Koreas and Russia, Pyongyang will get fuel aid in return for shutting down and eventually disabling its nuclear facilities.
Cheney, who last visited Japan in 2004, is not scheduled to meet outspoken Defence Minister Kyuma.He will, however, find time in his tight schedule to meet with the parents of one abductee early on 22 February morning, before leaving for Australia.