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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi expressed unequivocal support Tuesday for U.S. plans to forcibly disarm Iraq.

Koizumi had kept silent on whether Japan would back a U.S.-led war against Iraq without United Nations authorization.

The prime minister made his position clear after President George W. Bush informed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in a speech from the White House that he had 48 hours to go into exile or face war.

“If the United States, with Britain and other countries, launches a military attack, the Japanese government supports that decision,” Koizumi told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Koizumi called Bush’s proclamation “a very painful but unavoidable decision,” adding that the U.S. has made sufficient diplomatic efforts to try to unite the international community.

“It’s regrettable that the world could not come as one,” he said.

The U.S., Britain and Spain on Monday withdrew a resolution to the United Nations that would have paved the way for military action, putting an end to diplomatic efforts, as they faced the threat of France vetoing the measure and stiff opposition from other U.N. Security Council members.

Koizumi said the world must stop weapons of mass destruction from getting in the hands of terrorists, one reason he cited for his support of Bush.

“Now that it has become clear that the extremely dangerous Hussein regime has no intention of disarming, I believe it is reasonable to support a U.S. military attack,” he said.

It is not the first time Koizumi has voiced support for Washington over the question of Iraq. Previously, however, his support had been for U.S. “diplomatic efforts” to pressure Iraq to disarm, while he remained silent over whether his administration would support war in the absence of a new U.N. resolution.

Even in talks with leaders of the opposition parties last week, Koizumi would only go so far as to say he would decide on his position after considering the “atmosphere of the time.”

But on Tuesday, Koizumi clearly stated his belief that military action is possible without a new resolution, citing the provisions of the three previous U.N. resolutions on Iraq.

Resolution 678, of November 1990, authorizes military action following Iraq’s invasion on Kuwait.

Resolution 687, of April 1991, demands that Iraq give up its weapons of mass destruction in exchange for a truce.

Resolution 1441, of November 2002, states Iraq faces “serious consequences” if it fails to disarm.

The prime minister also said it was his “political decision” to express his support for a war at this time before the attack began. “The Bush speech gave the ultimatum of 48 hours. I thought it was better to make my position clear at this stage.’

Koizumi’s reasoning, however, is unlikely to win much public support — 80 percent of Japanese oppose war.

The government’s best hope was to have a new U.N. resolution so that it could explain to the public that there was “an international consensus” on the need for military intervention.

“We thought France would back down at the last minute and the resolution would be passed,” conceded one senior government official. “But it didn’t work out that way and now it’s pretty tough to explain (to the public).”

With little opportunity left to explain his position, Koizumi opted to shift his emphasis from international cooperation to the importance of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

“Japan has enjoyed peace for more than 50 years since the war thanks to the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Koizumi said. “It is not in our national interests to hurt the credibility of the alliance.”

Government officials have said North Korea is giving Japan a reason to emphasize the importance of the security alliance.

Japan would be dependent on the U.S. to counter any attack from North Korea.

Koizumi said later in the day that North Korea was “of course considered” as a threat with weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, the government held an emergency security council of all Cabinet ministers Tuesday night to discuss about measures against possible terrorist attacks on Japan and to help Japanese nationals to leave Iraq.

Koizumi instructed relevant ministers to do all they can to protect Japanese nationals in Iraq and other countries, step up security on important facilities in Japan and tighten immigration control, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda.

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba told reporters after the meeting that the agency may use a government plane to evacuate the Japanese nationals from Iraq if necessary.

“Japanese nationals still remain in Iraq. If necessary, we will take all possible measures,” Ishiba said.

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