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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Tokyo on Sunday that he expects the United Nations Security Council to vote on a new resolution for Iraq in early March.

Powell wants the vote on the resolution, drafted by the U.S. and Britain, to come “shortly after” March 7, when U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to submit a report to the council.

Powell called on Japan to express support when the resolution is submitted early this week. He also asked Tokyo to continue diplomatic efforts to persuade members of the U.N. Security Council to side with the U.S.

He made the comments at a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo shortly before he left for Beijing, the second stop on a three-nation tour that also includes South Korea.

“I would assume that once Dr. Blix has made that report, everybody will have one last opportunity to make a judgment,” Powell said.

“Shortly after that, a judgment will have to be made as to what the Security Council should do.”

Powell’s remarks came as U.S. President George W. Bush intensified diplomatic efforts within the international community to pass a resolution to forcibly disarm Iraq.

France has hinted that it may use its veto power to block a new resolution. Passage of a resolution requires the support of nine of the 15 members on the U.N. Security Council, with no veto from any of the permanent members — the U.S., France, China, Russia and the U.K.

Powell condemned Iraq for failing to pro-actively cooperate with the international inspection process. He called on the global community to “take action” if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not comply with its obligations.

“We are reaching a point where serious consequences must flow,” he said. “We would not see this continued pattern of deception, which has not changed in 12 years.”

Speaking on the current standoff with North Korea, Powell said he proposed to the Japanese side the previous day the creation of a multilateral framework to deal with the issue. Powell’s plan would include the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus South Korea, North Korea, Japan, Australia and the European Union — which he called the “five plus five” group.

The nuclear crisis was sparked in October when the U.S. said the North had admitted to developing nuclear arms. Pyongyang later ejected U.N. nuclear inspectors, removed seals from a mothballed reactor and pulled out of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“We still believe strongly that the solution to the problem with North Korea has to be in a multilateral form,” he said. “It is not just a North Korea-U.S. problem.”

Japan has pushed for a “five plus two” framework: the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Japan and South Korea.

The North Korea issue was referred to the U.N. Security Council last week, but an immediate economic sanction against the secretive state is unlikely at this point.

Powell said the U.S. is ready to provide aid to North Korea, which suffers food shortages and economic decay, only if it abandons its nuclear ambitions.

“You can’t eat plutonium. You can’t eat enriched uranium,” he said.

After his two-day visit to Japan, Powell will meet with Chinese leaders and then attend the inauguration of South Korean President-elect Roh Moo Hyun on Tuesday in Seoul.

Powell, Ishiba meet

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba and visiting U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed Sunday to strengthen bilateral security dialogue at all levels.

During the meeting, Powell said the United States will make the utmost effort to pass a new U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq and that the U.S. hopes to continue discussing the matter with Japan.

Powell met Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Mawaguchi on Saturday and offered similar statements.

Ishiba praised the persistent U.S. efforts to seek a new resolution and stressed that it is important for Iraq to comply with inspections and to prove that it has disposed of its weapons of mass destruction.

On North Korea, the two agreed on the need to seek cooperation from China and Russia as well as to strengthen the unity among Japan, the U.S. and South Korea.

“Under the current situation, it is important that Japan and the U.S. share a common understanding,” Ishiba said after the meeting.

The meeting was the first between Japan’s defense chief and a U.S. Secretary of State in at least 15 years, according to the Defense Agency.

Defense Agency officials said contacts with the Department of State have been increasing recently and that dialogue between the two sides will eventually be held regularly.

Too early: Kawaguchi

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Sunday it is too soon to clarify whether Japan would support a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

“We have yet to reach a stage at which we should make a decision on it,” Kawaguchi said on a television talk show aired the same day.

She explained that the international community is divided on how to disarm Iraq, but that the division itself only serves the interests of Iraq, which can make use of the division to buy time for avoiding a war.

Last Tuesday in New York, Japanese Ambassador to the United Nations Koichi Haraguchi urged the U.N. Security Council to adopt a new resolution on Iraq. This cast doubt on the effectiveness of the proposed stepped-up inspections, as urged by many other nations to uncover the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq is believed to possess.

But Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has denied that Haraguchi’s suggestion means Japan would automatically support an attack on Iraq.

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