The United States’ recent conclusion that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has raised the question of whether Japan will now face up to the facts.

The answer seems to be no.

Tokyo, defending its diplomatic position, has shifted the emphasis of its argument from the threat of Iraq’s possession of WMD to United Nations resolutions that it claims justify the use of force against Iraq.

Charles Duelfer, chief U.S. weapons inspector, concluded Wednesday in a 1,000-page report that there were no stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, and that Iraq’s ability to develop such weapons had diminished long before the war. The U.S. had claimed otherwise in launching its attack on Iraq.

The report places Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in a tough position ahead of debates with the opposition camp during an extraordinary Diet session that begins Tuesday. But the issue is unlikely to immediately affect his administration, which faces no elections in the near future.

Government officials have rushed to defend Japan’s support for the war against Iraq, which they claim invited the attack by refusing to prove that it didn’t possess WMD, as required by U.N. resolutions.

Koizumi had cited Iraq’s possession of WMD as a key reason for Japan’s support of the U.S. in the war.

He alleged Iraq possessed WMD and used colorful and, at times, alarmist words to sell the war to reluctant voters.

“Should weapons of mass destruction (including) chemical weapons, such as poison gas, or biological weapons, such as anthrax, fall into the hands of dictators or terrorists, it would not mean the deaths of just dozens or hundreds of people — the lives of thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands would be in danger,” Koizumi said on March 18, 2003, in a speech to express his firm support for the war.

“It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s extremely dangerous.”

The government has long refused to draw a conclusion on the whereabouts of WMD.

“There’s no guarantee that (the WMD) do not exist. Rather, it is more likely that they do exist,” then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference on Jan. 29 as the U.S. remained unable to locate any sign of a WMD program in Iraq.

But later the same day, Fukuda admitted that Japan had tried to verify allegations of Iraq’s WMD program but had failed due to an insufficient intelligence-gathering capability.

“How could we alone verify facts?” he asked. “Besides, we can’t go (to Iraq) to search (for WMD), either.

“It doesn’t mean that we haven’t done anything. We are gathering intelligence and contacting” information sources.

Motofumi Asai, a professor of international relations at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo, said Japan has been heavily dependent on the U.S. in terms of intelligence-gathering and formulating foreign policy.

“The conclusion comes first. Follow the U.S. and take what it says at face value,” said Asai, a former bureaucrat at the Foreign Ministry.

A senior official at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence gave a similar view.

Asked earlier this year to name the key policy formulator in the government in charge of the grand design for foreign affairs, the official said: “Grand design? I wonder if Japan has something like a grand design.

“That’s something a powerful country like the U.S. has.”

Government officials say Duelfer’s report won’t affect Japan’s intention to maintain its deployment of roughly 600 ground troops in Iraq, a symbol of Japan’s commitment to its alliance with the U.S.

The officials say the primary objective of the Self-Defense Forces troops, which are deployed in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, is to provide humanitarian aid.

“What we’re engaging in in Iraq is humanitarian and reconstruction support,” Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono told a regular news conference Friday.

“Our focus is on helping Iraq rebuild itself as a peaceful and democratic country, not to examine whether there were WMD.”

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