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Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi emphasized the importance of Japan’s alliance with the United States on Thursday as he voiced support for the U.S.-led attack on Iraq less than two hours after the operation began.

“Iraq has breached United Nations resolutions and has failed to show sincere cooperation (with U.N. inspections). On that basis, I understand and support the launch of the U.S. military strike,” he told a news conference at his official residence.

Koizumi expressed support for U.S. President George W. Bush’s latest explanation that the war is aimed at “giving freedom to the Iraqi people.”

He also said Japan will continue to work closely with the international community, especially in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq and in helping refugees in neighboring countries.

Aside from Iraq’s noncompliance with U.N. resolutions demanding that it give up its weapons of mass destruction, Koizumi cited the Japan-U.S. security alliance as the biggest reason for supporting the war, noting that Japan has been able to enjoy post-World War II peace and prosperity thanks to the bilateral alliance.

When Japan is confronted with a security threat that is too big to be handled by its own defense capabilities, “We will make sure that the strong trust under the Japan-U.S. alliance will work to protect our people,” he said. “The United States says that they consider any attack on Japan as an attack on America.

“That is working as a major deterrent against any country that may try to attack Japan. You must not forget this point.”

He cited the security threat from North Korea as a major reason for the government clearly siding with the U.S.

North Korea has recently launched antiship missiles into the Sea of Japan and reactivated its nuclear program.

“I understand that many of you feel threatened by those recent provocations, but I believe the Japan-U.S. alliance is working effectively to deter those threats,” he said.

Koizumi spent much of the news conference trying to justify his decision to support the U.S.-led war despite the lack of authorization from the U.N. Security Council.

Media opinion polls have indicated that about 80 percent of Japanese are against the war.

Koizumi argued that the Iraqi government is to blame for the war because, since the Persian Gulf War of 1991, it has failed to fulfill its promise to abandon its weapons of mass destruction.

“The perception of threats changed dramatically after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States,” Koizumi said. “Many people began to sense the threat of weapons of mass destruction, and if these weapons fall into the hands of dictators, we do not know what will happen.”

Koizumi recently stirred controversy by telling the Diet that public opinion is “not always right.” In Thursday’s news conference, he acknowledged that his position backing Bush is not currently supported by the majority of the public.

“I understand the feelings of the vast majority of people who oppose war,” Koizumi said. “If you ask me, I don’t like war either. . . . But considering the current Iraqi situation, it is in our national interests to support the U.S. stance. I believe that the Japanese people will understand the government’s position in time.”

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage notified Japan of the attack at around 11:30 a.m. Thursday, minutes before the operation began.

Armitage telephoned Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi to say that the attack would begin “very soon,” and that information was immediately relayed to Koizumi, Fukuda said.

Aid for refugees

The Foreign Ministry decided Thursday to provide a total of $5.03 million in humanitarian aid to three international organizations and to dispatch doctors to neighboring countries of Iraq to deal with an anticipated influx of refugees from the country.

The ministry will provide the aid to UNICEF, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Food Program.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency will dispatch five doctors to Syria on Friday, where refugees are expected to flood in to provide medical support. Civilian experts will form a medical team to provide support as well.

The government will also provide financial support to Iraq’s neighbors, in particular Jordan, as it’s economy relies heavily on Iraq. It will provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian Authority to ensure stability in the region.

The government will dispatch Self-Defense Forces aircraft to neighboring countries to deliver emergency supplies, and it is also considering flying government jets and chartered planes to Israel and Kuwait if commercial flights are canceled, ministry officials said.

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