• Kyodo

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The United States has asked Japan for contributions in the event of war with Iraq, as Washington steps up international pressure to force Baghdad to abandon its weapons of mass destruction, U.S. sources said Thursday.

The request, conveyed by a senior official of the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to a senior Foreign Ministry official, did not mention any specific military assistance, the sources said.

“We are at a stage now where we need to think seriously about the possibility of military action, and in that context, we are asking our friends and allies to start considering seriously what they could contribute,” one American source said.

This does not mean the U.S. will decide soon to go to war with Iraq, the source added.

The U.S. has threatened to use force against Iraq if it fails to fulfill its obligations under a new U.N. Security Council resolution passed earlier this month that requires Baghdad to scrap all weapons of mass destruction.

Apart from Japan, the U.S. has approached about 50 countries, including members of NATO.

Before the request was conveyed to Japan, the U.S. had already sounded out Tokyo about the possibility of expanding logistic support to the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan so that it can focus on a possible war with Iraq.

According to Japanese and U.S. sources, the U.S. wants Japan to deploy advanced P-3C surveillance aircraft to conduct patrols and expand its refueling operation in the Arabian Sea.

Washington wants Japan to provide fuel supplies to vessels from Germany and other coalition forces, as well as U.S. and British naval ships.

Armitage to test waters

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is expected to visit Japan in mid-December to gauge Tokyo’s support for a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq, sources said Friday.

The visit will probably take place shortly before Japan and the United States hold ministerial-level security talks in Washington on Dec. 16, they said. The details are now being finalized.

Armitage is expected to meet with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi and other officials, the sources said.

The situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is expected to be another hot item during Armitage’s visit, the sources said.

He is also expected to visit South Korea.

Washington has been calling on its allies to pledge their support if it embarks on a military campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction.

On Thursday, the 19 members of NATO meeting in Prague threw their support behind President George W. Bush and demanded that Iraq comply with a U.N. resolution to disarm.

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