Abe focuses on women's role in UN speech, pledges $3 bil. aid

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday women should be empowered to play a greater role in society and peace building and pledged to offer more than $3 billion in official development assistance over the next three years to support efforts in these endeavors.

In his address at the annual meeting of the General Assembly, Abe also said Japan will provide $60 million to help Syrian refugees and internally displaced people due to protracted conflict in the country, and take part in U.N. collective security operations to pursue a "proactive" pacifism.

On the empowering of women, the main areas where Japan will place priority are creating a society that provides women with opportunities to excel, extending support to women suffering from sexual violence in armed conflicts, and promoting universal health coverage, or an idea that all people should have access to medical services when needed.

The speech came a day after Abe said he is not a "right-wing militarist," to counter perceptions he is veering to the right.

Abe apparently tried to soften his image by focusing on the rights of women as Japan has been embroiled in the issue of "comfort women" who were forced to provide sexual services during World War II.

As the Syrian crisis is taking center stage at the U.N. meeting, Abe said the use of chemical weapons in Syria cannot be tolerated, and Japan supports efforts by the international community to eliminate such weapons of mass destruction.

Since taking office in December, Abe has been aiming to enable Japan to take on a greater security role in the changing security environment and potentially lift its self-imposed ban on collective self-defense, or defending an ally under armed attack.

Although there is still a long way to go for the ban to be removed, Abe provided insights into what Japan's defense posture would look like in his address.

He said Japan, seeking reform of the U.N. Security Council, is ready to become a "proactive" contributor to global peace and security through steps such as participation in U.N. collective security operations.

Abe, meanwhile, said Japan would not tolerate the use of force in changing order of the sea, making an apparent reference to China, which has continued to increase its maritime activities in the East and South China seas.

Japan cannot accept North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs, and the return of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s should come first before any normalization of bilateral ties, he said.

As the only nation to have suffered atomic bombings, during World War II, Japan will commit itself to making sure nuclear weapons will be abolished, and hopes Iran will takes specific steps to address the country's nuclear issue under the new leadership, he said.