(photo credit: Associated Press)
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority early next year to further the peace process, a top official said Monday.
Chief cabinet secretary Shinzo Abe said Koizumi would also visit Turkey during the trip, which is apparently part of government efforts to raise Japan's diplomatic profile.
He said a schedule was still being worked out.
The Kyodo News agency reported last week that Koizumi would meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, possibly organizing a three-party summit.
Koizumi will stop in Turkey for talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key US ally, to demonstrate Japan's support of Washington's policy in the region, Kyodo said.
"The world has very high interest in the Mideast peace process, and the peace process is not unrelated to Japan," Koizumi told a group of reporters Monday. "We would like to consider what Japan can do and also listen to the other sides' opinion."
Japan has tried to improve its standing in international politics, campaigning - so far unsuccessfully - to win a permanent seat on the UN Security Council together with India, Germany and Brazil.
Also Monday, Ambassador to Japan Eli Cohen said it was imperative for Japan to contribute to the peace process to raise its international profile.
"If you want to join the Security Council, you cannot just give money. You want to influence both parties to make progress and more stability toward peace" in the Middle East, Kyodo quoted Cohen as saying at a press conference in Tokyo.
It would be the first visit by a Japanese leader to the Middle East in a decade. Prime minister Tomiichi Murayama toured Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Israel, the Gaza Strip and Jordan in 1995.