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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, after relying heavily on public support for his political power base, is now turning against the majority of Japanese, who oppose a war against Iraq.

At a House of Councilors Budget Committee meeting Wednesday, Koizumi lamented recent opinion polls that show nearly 80 percent of the public opposes the looming war, saying that following public opinion is not always right in formulating policies.

“There are times when we might make a mistake if we follow public opinion,” Koizumi said when asked by an opposition lawmaker what he feels about popular opposition to the war. “History proves the point that in many cases, it is not right to be swayed by public opinion.”

Unlike his predecessors, Koizumi has heavily weighed public opinion in shaping his foreign policy, especially toward North Korea. It was a strong public outcry that moved the government to seek the homecoming of the five surviving victims of abduction and to keep them here by breaking a promise to the North that they would return in two weeks.

But regarding Iraq, Koizumi faces a dilemma in that while he has “virtually no choice but to support the United States, he will surely face public criticism at home,” said one of his aides. “That’s why the prime minister cannot make clear at this stage whether he would support a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq.”

Some in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party predict that Koizumi’s public support rate would drop by about 10 points once he gives clear support for the war — a move that may be critical for the survival of his Cabinet, whose support rate has already fallen below the 50 percent line.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, in defending Koizumi, turned the criticism toward the media later in the day. “What’s bad is the way (the media) asks questions,” he said.

“If you ask whether a war is good or bad, everybody says a war is bad. I wonder if you can call that public opinion.”

Fukuda said it is still “too early” to talk about whether the world should resort to military force to disarm Iraq. “There are many things the international community should do before that,” Fukuda said, referring to last-minute diplomatic efforts.

Plea for diplomacy

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki urged the United States on Tuesday to make every effort until the last moment to resolve the Iraqi crisis within the framework of the United Nations.

Kanzaki made the request during a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, said an official of New Komeito, which is part of the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition.

Kanzaki told Armitage that the Japanese government supports a new U.N. Security Council resolution introduced by the U.S., Britain and Spain and that his party is in the same position.

Armitage said the U.S. will make utmost efforts to get the resolution through the Security Council, but indicated the U.S. will disarm Iraq by force even without U.N. support.

According to the New Komeito official, Armitage quoted Secretary of State Colin Powell as saying that the U.S. could use force against Iraq under the terms of Resolution 1441, which gave a final opportunity for Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction or face “serious consequences.

Turning to North Korea, Armitage accused Pyongyang of escalating provocations, according to the New Komeito official.

Referring to the interception of a U.S. reconnaissance plane by four North Korean fighter jets Sunday in international airspace, Armitage said North Korea apparently fears that U.S. reconnaissance planes will gather information on possible test-firing of missiles by Pyongyang.

Armitage, who is scheduled to meet Wednesday with the families of three Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea, reiterated that the U.S. will help Japan resolve the abduction issue.

‘Shields’ urged to go

AMMAN (Kyodo) Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday urged nine Japanese nationals who have vowed to serve as human shields in Iraq to leave the country as soon as possible.

Motegi, who stopped over in Amman following a visit to Iraq as a special envoy of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, made the call at a news conference held in the Jordanian capital.

“The situation is getting critical,” Motegi said. “They should leave Iraq as soon as they can.”

The government has issued an advisory for all Japanese to leave Iraq, which is facing a U.S. military attack.

According to Norihiro Okuda, a senior Foreign Ministry official who traveled to Iraq with Motegi, the Japanese “human shield” volunteers have indicated they want to stay on in Iraq “as long as they can.”

Okuda said the government, through the embassy in Baghdad and other channels, will try to persuade them to leave.

Motegi said he realizes that the nine Japanese want to contribute to the cause of peace in Iraq, but “the situation is too dangerous” for them to remain there.