Japan expressed support Saturday for a revised draft resolution submitted jointly by the United States, Britain and Spain to the United Nations Security Council that sets March 17 as the deadline for Iraq to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction.

“The (revised) draft resolution will serve as a final effort by the international community to together pressure Iraq so that it will voluntarily disarm,” said Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in a statement. “We will support this (resolution).”

Kawaguchi added that the government will continue its diplomatic efforts “so that the international society will come together as one,” an indication that Tokyo plans to urge other members of the Security Council to support the revised resolution.

“(The March 17 deadline) means the U.S. will wait no longer than that date,” said a government source, suggesting that war is imminent.

Media opinion polls indicate that the majority of Japanese people are opposed to a war against Iraq, but the government’s quick announcement of its support reflects Tokyo’s concern that if it takes a soft stance on Iraq, North Korea — which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons — may take it as a “wrong message.”

“Japan’s attitude toward the Iraq issue will naturally affect the situation over North Korea,” Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said earlier this month. “We must make the Japan-U.S. alliance a firm one so that it will act as a deterrent toward the North.”

In its most recent provocative move, North Korean jet fighters intercepted a U.S. spy plane last week, flying within 15 meters of the U.S. aircraft.

Thursday’s remark by U.S. President George W. Bush — that Washington will force a vote on the Iraq resolution within days — apparently encouraged the Japanese government to express its clear support for the revised resolution.

It has been widely speculated that the U.S., Britain and Spain will not put their resolution to a vote in the Security Council if they do not believe they can secure the nine votes required to have it adopted.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said he believed the U.S. decided to force a vote since it was confident of winning the nine votes, adding that he was surprised by the president’s clear-cut statement.

Veteran lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, including former Secretary General Hiromu Nonaka, have been openly critical of the government’s position on the Iraq issue.

However, New Komeito leader Takenori Kanzaki, whose party is said to have close ties with Nonaka, said Saturday the revised resolution shows that the international community is determined to deal with the issue of Iraq together.

“Criticism will disappear the minute military action is taken against Iraq as the issue concerns national interest,” said a senior member of the ruling party, who asked not to be named.

Naoto Kan, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, criticized the government for supporting the revised draft resolution, saying Japan should support further inspections in Iraq.

“I cannot say Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trustworthy but calling for an attack is too impetuous,” he said.

In the event of a war, Japan is expected to provide humanitarian aid but not direct support for military operations.

On Friday, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told an LDP panel that Japan is considering three types of support: providing aid to refugees from Iraq; offering financial support to countries neighboring Iraq; and taking the lead in the country’s postwar reconstruction process.

The government is weighing the possibility of new legislation that would pave the way for Self-Defense Force troops to be dispatched to support reconstruction once the war is over.

It is unlikely, however, that Japan will provide logistic support to the U.S.-led operation against Iraq, as it did in operations in Afghanistan, or shoulder any of the expenses for the war.

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