US urges Japan to continue to aid Afghan mission

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WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) The Bush administration will press Japan to resume refueling missions supporting the US-led war in Afghanistan after they were halted earlier today, the White House said.

''We would like for those refuelings to continue and we'll be talking to the Japanese,'' White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters. ''They have played a very important role in support of the troops that are there.'' Japan's new prime minister, Yasuo Fukuda, was unable to reach agreement this week with the main Japanese opposition party to continue providing free fuel for US and other ships that are patrolling the Indian Ocean.

The Pentagon has said the halt would not affect military operations in the combat zone.

Fukuda's government has pledged to try to get a new law passed so its navy could continue the refueling support, although it could take months to resume the program. Fukuda faces opposition in Parliament on the issue.

The White House said Bush had not spoken to Fukuda by telephone about the matter yet but that the prime minister would visit Washington during the week of November 12.

The fuel provided by Japan's supply mission accounted for about 19.6 per cent of total fuel consumed by coalition vessels from December 2001 through February 2003, according to Pentagon data.

Since then, it has accounted for about 7.3 per cent of fuel consumed by coalition vessels.

Reuters RJ GC2154

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