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Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said Monday he will ask Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawa to join his Cabinet when it is reshuffled in January.

“In my personal opinion, as long as we are forming a coalition government, it would be desirable to share the responsibility between the top leaders of the two parties,” Obuchi said during a Tokyo Broadcasting System program. “I would like to ask him to join the new Cabinet.”

Asked whether he will offer Ozawa the post of deputy prime minister, Obuchi said he first needs to talk with the Liberal Party chief about the kind of post he is ready to take.

Obuchi is expected to establish a coalition government with the Liberal Party by reshuffling the Cabinet in January. The expected move follows Saturday’s key agreement with Ozawa to reduce the number of Cabinet ministers to 18 from 20.

During the program, he said the timing of the reshuffle has yet to be decided but that it will be impossible to carry out by year’s end. He also said it will take place either before or after his Jan. 6-13 visit to Europe.

On the scope of the Cabinet reshuffle, Obuchi hinted that it will be difficult to grant more than one ministerial post to the Liberal Party.

Although there are many eligible Liberal Party members for ministerial posts, it will be difficult to grant so many to the party, given the reduction of ministers to 18, he said. “If the (Liberal Party) president can join the Cabinet, I hope to ask him to represent all (of his party members),” Obuchi said.

He also disclosed that Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka has told him of his willingness to resign. However, calling Nonaka “the key person in the Cabinet,” the prime minister expressed a strong wish that Nonaka stay on even after the coalition government is established.

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