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Japan's Abe pledges support for Mideast countries battling ISIS

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe warned on Saturday that the world would suffer an "immeasurable loss" if terrorism spreads in the Middle East and pledged about $200 million in non-military assistance for countries battling Islamic State.

The threat of Islamist militancy has come into sharp focus outside the Middle East after gunmen killed 17 people in three days of violence in Paris that began on Jan. 7 with an attack on the offices of a newspaper that had published satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad.

Islamic State controls large parts of OPEC oil producer Iraq and neighboring Syria, has declared a caliphate and wants to redraw the map of a region vital for Japan's energy needs.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Pablo Blazquez Dominguez | Getty Images
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

"It goes without saying that the stability of the Middle East is the foundation for peace and prosperity for the world, and of course for Japan," Abe said in Cairo in the first leg of a regional tour.

"Should we leave terrorism or weapons of mass destruction to spread in this region, the loss imparted upon the international community would be immeasurable."

Highlighting his concern, Abe told a meeting of the Japan-Egypt Business Committee that Tokyo would provide non-military financial backing for countries fighting the al-Qaeda breakaway group, also known as ISIL.

"I will pledge assistance of a total of about 200 million U.S. dollars for those countries contending with ISIL, to help build their human capacities, infrastructure, and so on," said Abe.

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Stability has remained elusive in the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings toppled veteran autocrats and raised hopes of democracy and economic prosperity.

"There is no shortcut to nipping violence in the bud. There is no way other than bringing stability to people's livelihoods and fostering a middle class, even if it takes time," Abe said.

'Great possibilities'

In addition to the $2.2 billion in assistance Japan pledged for the Middle East two years ago, Abe said his government would provide another $2.5 billion in non-military assistance in fields such as humanitarian assistance and infrastructure.

"The Middle East ... that's the region endowed with great possibilities," said Abe, whose tour will also include Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Turkey.

"And yet now it appears to be no exaggeration to say that the region is exposed to a challenge that is among the most serious in its modern history."

The Japanese leader stressed the need for economic growth in the Middle East, where militants often try to exploit frustrations with issues such as unemployment and neglected schools to gain recruits.

Security crackdowns alone have failed to defeat militancy in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, and other states as well.

Japan will provide Egypt with $360 million in loans for projects including an airport and a power grid in a country suffering from an energy crisis, Abe said.

"These are intended to contribute to Egypt's development, and by extension, to widening the foundation for stability across the entire region," he added.

Aside from tackling Islamic State, the region and Western leaders also face the daunting task of securing serious progress on the Israeli and Palestinian front.

"Japan believes that the day will come in the near future when we can recognize Palestine as a state," said Abe.

"In order for that day to arrive sooner, we will appeal to both Israel and Palestine to resume negotiations to advance the so-called two-state solution."