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Ukraine war

Kishida eyes attending NATO summit in late June, in a first for Japan

Tokyo seeks stronger coordination with the U.S. and Europe on Russia's war in Ukraine

Kishida plans to travel to Madrid to attend the NATO summit later this month.   © Reuters

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is planning to attend a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization slated for late June in Spain, which would make him the first Japanese leader to take part in a gathering of the Western alliance, government sources said Saturday.

Kishida's attendance at the June 29 to 30 event in Madrid is dependent on the domestic political situation leading up to a House of Councillors election likely to be held July 10, the sources said.

Government officials hope Kishida's participation in the NATO summit will strengthen coordination with the United States and European countries in responding to Russia's war in Ukraine and possible contingencies over the Taiwan Strait.

Kishida plans to travel to the Spanish capital after attending a three-day summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations from June 26 in Germany, according to the sources.

Australia, New Zealand and South Korea have also been invited to attend the NATO summit as partner countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

South Korea has sounded out Japan about the first in-person meeting between Kishida and President Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of the summit, the sources said, as the two countries have been struggling to improve their relations strained by disagreements over wartime issues.

Kishida and Yoon held phone talks in March after Yoon won the presidential election, agreeing to meet directly at an early date.

Attendance by Japan and the other non-NATO countries would give a strong message of solidarity to the international community over the Ukraine crisis.

However, there are mixed views in the government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party over Kishida's participation as the NATO summit's schedule clashes with the expected kickoff on June 22 of official campaigning for the Japanese upper house election.

Some government officials think the premier's summit diplomacy with Western and Indo-Pacific leaders will help boost public support for his ruling coalition.

But some LDP lawmakers suggest that Kishida, whose support rate is already relatively high, should focus on campaigning in as many electoral districts as possible before the election.

As of May 22, the Kishida Cabinet's approval rating stood at 61.5%, the highest level since he took office in October last year, according to a Kyodo News survey.

Kishida has strongly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine, seeing it as the use of force to change the status quo in violation of international law.

Japan has coordinated with other G-7 members -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United States plus the European Union -- in imposing sanctions on Russia to compel it to cease its aggression.

Kishida has also called for preventing a similar crisis from occurring in the Indo-Pacific region, where China's assertive moves have heightened tensions.

In April, Japan's Yoshimasa Hayashi joined a foreign ministerial meeting of NATO member states and partner countries in Belgium, becoming the first Japanese foreign minister to attend a NATO session.

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