Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi hinted Thursday that Japan would support a U.S.-led military offensive against Iraq “as an ally of the United States.”

But during a session of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, he said it would be “desirable” if the U.N. Security Council adopts a new resolution backing such an attack.

When pressed on whether Japan would support a U.S.-led strike in the absence of a new U.N. resolution, Koizumi only said he would await the outcome of Security Council discussions on the matter.

“We will make a decision (on whether to support a U.S.-led attack on Iraq) following discussions at the United Nations,” he told reporters.

Following Secretary of State Colin Powell’s report to the Security Council, Koizumi said he is more suspicious about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction.

“It is zero hour for Iraq to respond to international claims that it has violated U.N. resolution No. 1,441,” Koizumi told the Lower House Budget Committee in the morning. “Japan has to act responsibly as a member of the international community and as an ally of the U.S.”

Criticism of Washington’s stance on Iraq is “completely skewed,” Koizumi said, adding that all concerns regarding Iraq would disappear if Baghdad observed U.N. resolutions.

“The essence of the problem is that Iraq has not observed U.N. resolutions for the past 10 years,” he said.

Other government officials, who declined to be named, said Japan has no choice but to support a U.S.-led strike because the bilateral alliance is the core of the nation’s diplomacy and security.

However, the degree of support will depend on how well Washington does in selling other Security Council members on its planned military offensive against Baghdad.

One senior government official said Japan is waiting to express its support at a time that would draw the most gratitude from Washington.

In preparation for winning such an expression of gratitude, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Powell’s report to the Security Council was “very convincing” in showing that Iraq has failed to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

“We cannot expect effective inspections to be carried out if Iraq continues to act in that way,” Fukuda said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who usually makes reserved comments before the Diet, condemned Iraq during an appearance before the Lower House Budget Committee.

“Some people in the international community say that suspicions regarding Iraq are unfounded because clear (evidence) supporting such suspicions has not surfaced, but the fact that nothing has come up is, in fact, a problem,” Kawaguchi said. “It means that Iraq is not making efforts to clear those suspicions.”

Kawaguchi also stated that Japan “highly values” the U.S. efforts to disclose information in support of its claim that Iraq does not intend to abandon its development of weapons of mass destruction.

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