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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged Iraq on Tuesday to allow U.N. inspectors to check for weapons of mass destruction and said continued refusal could lead to military conflict with the United States.

Koizumi made the warning in a speech in New York on the eve of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. and later paid a visit to ground zero, the scene of destruction a year ago in lower Manhattan.

Delivering the speech at the Council on Foreign Relations, Koizumi expressed his resolve to normalize diplomatic ties with North Korea and reiterated his determination to revive the flagging economy.

Focusing on the standoff between the United States and Iraq, Koizumi warned Iraq of the consequences of blocking U.N. inspectors from verifying U.S. allegations that it is secretly developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

“Iraq’s denial of inspections for such weapons is a great concern to the international community,” Koizumi said. “The international community must stand together to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.”

Koizumi’s remarks came as President George W. Bush steps up pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to allow international inspectors, threatening an attack to bring a “regime change” in Baghdad.

On North Korea, Koizumi said it is his government’s “historical responsibility” to settle unresolved issues and normalize relations with Pyongyang.

Koizumi is to pay a one-day visit to Pyongyang on Sept. 17 for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, the first-ever meeting between leaders of the two countries.

On the economic front, Koizumi said that while Japan is still in a difficult situation, the results of his structural reform initiatives are “steadily appearing, and some parts of the economy are beginning to show improvements.”

Referring to his belief that “there will be no growth without reform,” Koizumi said the revival of the Japanese economy is the biggest contribution Tokyo can make to the international community.

Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, accounts for 13 percent of the global economy in terms of gross domestic product.

In a question-and-answer session following the speech, Koizumi reiterated his intention to speed up the disposal of bad loans. “It is true that (slower-than-expected) disposal of nonperforming loans has shackled the Japanese economy,” he said.

On the future of China-Taiwan relations, Koizumi said, “I hope issues related to China and Taiwan will be settled through dialogue” and pledged to help “create the environment” for such dialogue.

Meeting later with reporters who traveled with him to New York, Koizumi fudged on whether he would visit China this year to mark the 30th anniversary of normalization of bilateral diplomatic ties.

“I’ll go to China if Beijing wants me to go, otherwise, I will not,” Koizumi said.

Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in April invited Koizumi to visit China this fall, but no date has been set.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing soured after Koizumi paid a visit to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo shortly after Zhu’s invitation. Yasukuni honors Japanese war criminals along with war dead.

Koizumi’s action provoked anger from neighboring states, particularly in China, where memories of Japanese wartime military atrocities are still fresh.

On Tuesday afternoon, Koizumi visited the site of the World Trade Center and offered a bouquet of white flowers to the 2,800 people who died in last year’s attack by two hijacked planes.

Koizumi, looking somber, stared at the huge hole below the ground level for 10 minutes.

“Here I found still serious” damage both physically and psychologically, Koizumi told reporters after the visit.

Koizumi wound up the official functions of the first day of a four-day stay in New York attending an evening reception organized by the Japan Society in New York.

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