Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday won a desperately needed endorsement from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan for Japan’s engagement in postwar aid missions in Iraq.

Annan, in Tokyo for a five-day visit, held a one-hour meeting with Koizumi at the Prime Minister’s Office.

An official said Annan praised Japan’s role in postwar reconstruction efforts, saying Japan is doing “the right work.”

Koizumi and Annan agreed the United Nations should play an active key role in rebuilding Iraq, sidelining questions over the legitimacy of the United States-led war on the country and Japan’s full support for it.

Briefly addressing reporters together after their meeting, Koizumi said, “We have shared a common vision that the U.N.’s role will be extremely important in building a government by Iraqi people and of Iraq people.”

Annan said, “I assured the prime minister that the U.N. has always been ready to play through.”

The U.S. decision to wage war on Iraq deeply divided U.N. member countries and temporarily paralyzed the functions of the U.N.

Japan sided with the U.S. to show its commitment to their bilateral military alliance.

Opposition lawmakers have criticized the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq, saying the government is blindly supporting the U.S.-led occupation.

During Monday’s meeting, Annan and Koizumi agreed that the international community should work together, according to a Foreign Ministry official who briefed the media about the meeting.

Koizumi told Annan that Japan attaches great importance to U.N.-based international cooperation, and that the SDF has been dispatched for humanitarian aid missions, the official said.

Speaking to reporters, the U.N. chief said he briefed Koizumi about a key report of a U.N. fact-finding mission that will be released Tuesday.

The report recommends that the power of governance be transferred to the Iraqi people by June 30, as initially scheduled, and that elections be organized “in the not-too-distant future,” Annan said.

Japanese government officials said that Annan also told Koizumi during the meeting that the elections should be held between the end of this year and early next year.

The U.N. will propose various options for the form of the new government, the officials quoted Annan as saying.

Annan meets Emperor

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan paid a courtesy call Monday on Emperor Akihito, expressing appreciation for Japan’s $5 billion contribution in aid and the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces personnel to help reconstruct Iraq, according to the Imperial Household Agency.

The Emperor in response expressed his wish that U.N. efforts not only in Iraq but elsewhere in the world help reduce conflicts and bring about peace, agency officials said.

The relationship between Japan and the U.N. has been subtly tense in the past year, as Japan has thrown its full support behind the U.S.-led war against Iraq — a war that deeply divided U.N. member nations.

Annan, who arrived in Japan on Saturday, has kept silent on the question of the legitimacy of the Iraq war.

Asked to comment on Annan’s stance, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Monday the secretary general may be taking a realistic approach for the sake of Iraq’s reconstruction.

“I don’t know why he has changed his attitude.,” Fukuda said during a regular press conference.

“Our understanding is that he is very concerned about how (the U.N.) should react realistically” to help Iraq to stand on its own, Fukuda said.

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