- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

TOKYO, March 19 (UPI) — Japan's prime minister said Tuesday that his government supports the ultimatum to Iraq that the United States delivered Monday night.

Explaining his decision, Junichiro Koizumi cited insufficient Iraqi cooperation with U.N. arms inspectors and persistent suspicions that the country still has weapons of mass destruction.

However, many political observers agreed that the Japanese concerns for maintaining the security alliance with the United States played the crucial role — made all the more crucial against the backdrop of the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Koizumi's decision was upheld at the National Security Council, which met Tuesday and was attended by all Cabinet members. But even among the ruling parties — including Koizumi's own Liberal Democratic Party — there was strong opposition based on the fear of economic fall-out from war.

Several also expressed concern over a lack of international legitimacy for the war. According to a survey of Diet members conducted by Kyodo News Agency between last Thursday and Monday, only 53 percent of the LDP supported an attack without U.N. backing.

Such voices have powerful backers. For example, a nationwide labor organization recently staged a demonstration to denounce U.S. military action over Iraq without U.N. agreement.

Koizumi told reporters Tuesday that a series of U.N. decisions were sufficient justification for the United States to resort to military means, including Resolution 1441, the one that ordered the return of inspectors last November and promised "serious consequences" if Iraq did not cooperate with disarmament.

To push last-minute diplomatic efforts, however, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met with Qasim Shakir, charge d'affaires at the Iraqi Embassy in Japan, calling for the exile of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"If Iraq paves the way for the abolition of its (suspected) weapons of mass destruction with the exile of (Saddam), the Iraqi people will be able to avoid damage stemming from military action," Kawaguchi was quoted as telling the Iraqi top diplomat.

For average Japanese, the imminent war will be another burden for the stagnant economy. Koizumi called an urgent meeting to discuss ways to secure financial stability, including enhanced cooperation between the Financial Services Agency and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in monitoring the markets.

After the meeting, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma told reporters that Saudi Arabia and Qatar had assured Japan of sufficient oil supplies if U.S.-led military forces invade Iraq.

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