Photo/IllutrationA P3C surveillance aircraft flies above a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer near the Gulf of Aden. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The government is eager to dispatch a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer to the Persian Gulf to help its main ally, the United States, but junior coalition partner Komeito is balking at moving too quickly.

Tokyo was seeking to reach a decision this month to show solidarity with Washington in multinational efforts to patrol the waters in light of growing tension between the United States and Iran.

However, Komeito has made clear it wants a greater say in such a policy decision, given that a number of U.S. allies are already patrolling the region.

The government announced plans in October to dispatch the SDF to secure the safety of Japanese vessels navigating Middle Eastern waters. At the same time, Japan decided it would not join the U.S.-led alliance for fear of provoking Iran, with which it has a long history of friendly ties based mainly on crude oil imports.

The government said it wants the MSDF to make an assessment of the situation under provisions of the law that established the Defense Ministry. That raised the hackles of not only Komeito lawmakers but also some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Dispatching an MSDF vessel for "study and research" would not require Diet approval nor even that of the Cabinet as it comes under the purview of the defense minister.

But high-ranking Komeito officials are objecting to the deployment of a destroyer for study and research purposes.

In addition, a P3C surveillance aircraft now engaged in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia would be shifted to waters close to the Persian Gulf to assist the MSDF destroyer.

Appearing on a TV news program in November, Natsuo Yamaguchi, the Komeito leader, insisted that any study and research must not be undertaken lightly in deploying the SDF.

Komeito is seeking to strengthen its hand by ensuring that such a dispatch be at least approved at Cabinet level.

Before any Cabinet decision is made on legislation or the government's basic policy, both coalition partners will have to discuss the issue in-house and reach a consensus that would allow the Cabinet to rubber stamp the decision.

The two parties are expected to begin such discussions soon. However, even LDP lawmakers acknowledge that getting the consent of both parties will not be smooth because of questions being raised about the safety of the proposed mission.

(This article was written by Takahiro Okubo and Ryuichi Yamashita.)