Abe briefing paper rules out Japan strike on Islamic State

TOKYO - Japan's government considered whether it had the legal basis for a military strike on Islamic State militants and concluded it did not, as officials scrambled to seek the release of two Japanese captured in Syria, according to a document reviewed by Reuters.

The briefing document was compiled on Friday by Japanese officials at the request of the prime minister's office, shortly before a deadline to pay ransom for the release of the two men. There was no immediate word on their fate after the 0550 GMT deadline passed.

The capture of two Japanese citizens in Syria represents an"unacceptable act of terror," the document says. But it concluded the situation did not meet the legal conditions for the dispatch of Japanese forces.

Japan's pacifist constitution bans its troops fighting overseas, among other restrictions on the military. However, Abe is trying to ease curbs on exercising the right of collective self-defence, or militarily aiding an ally under attack, in a reinterpretation of the constitution that must now be passed into law.

The document, in the form of potential questions the Abe government could face and answers to them, reflects the views of various government agencies including the foreign and defence ministries.

However, it avoided a direct answer on whether Japan's Self-Defence Forces had the military capacity to respond to a hostage crisis like the current one.

The document poses the question of whether legal changes being pursued by the Abe administration could allow Japan to provide logistical support for the United States, which is conducting air strikes against Islamic State.

"We are proceeding with consideration of a legal framework to implement support activities necessary to support other militaries in contributing to Japan's peace and safety and the peace and stability of the international community," said the reply, without mentioning Islamic State.

The top government spokesman, however, said the government was not considering whether collective self-defence would apply to the fight against Islamic State. At a news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also said the government was not preparing a position paper on the subject.

The document reviewed by Reuters reaffirms Japan's intent to press ahead with "non-military" humanitarian aid for countries affected by Islamic State, a position restated by Abe and other top officials during the hostage crisis.

Abe announced US$200 million in such aid on Saturday in Cairo. On Tuesday, Islamic State released a video showing the captives, Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa, and demanding the same amount for their release.

The document does not refer to Islamic State's ransom demand or any possible response