Japan will send its senior vice foreign minister as a special envoy to Baghdad as part of a last-ditch diplomatic effort to get Iraq to give up its weapons of mass destruction program, government leaders said Wednesday.

“We plan to urge Iraq to cooperate with the United Nations inspectors so that it can avoid a war,” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said.

Toshimitsu Motegi will leave for Baghdad over the weekend, government officials said, adding that he will also travel to Jordan.

Japan has until now been cautious about sending an envoy to Baghdad out of concerns that the occasion may be used by Iraq to claim it is complying with United Nations inspections.

However, the government apparently decided to step up its diplomatic activities now that it has voiced clear support for a new draft resolution presented Monday to the U.N. Security Council by the United States, Britain and Spain.

The government will also send former foreign ministers as special envoys to neighboring countries of Iraq to exchange opinions on the situation and urge them to call on Saddam Hussein to comply with the U.N. resolutions, Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said.

Masahiko Komura will be dispatched to Saudi Arabia and Egypt while Taro Nakayama will visit Turkey and Syria, which is currently a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

Also, Tatsuo Arima, a former special assistant to the foreign minister, will be dispatched to Israel, including the Palestinian-controlled area, and Egypt to discuss the Middle East peace process.

In a meeting with visiting Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt later in the day, Koizumi said Japan is trying to step up diplomatic efforts to to urge Baghdad to comply with U.N. resolutions to avert a military conflict.

Belgium is siding with France and Germany in calling for more inspections.

Verhofstadt said Belgium wants to wait until March 7, when U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to report to the Security Council, to see if a peaceful solution is possible, according to a Japanese government official.

The Belgian leader was quoted as saying war should be avoided if Blix concludes that progress has been made in Iraq’s compliance with inspections.

Koizumi did not specifically urge Belgium to back a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution, but said more pressure was necessary to change Iraq’s attitude, the official said.

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