Earlier this year, the government appeared confident that Japan could become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council this fall when world leaders were to meet in New York to discuss reforming the 60-year-old body.

But the environment surrounding its bid took a turn for the worse, and the U.N. has postponed resolving questions over reform at least until the end of the year.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi suggested in a speech Thursday at the U.N. World Summit that Japan is willing to wait until September 2006 to reform the powerful council and become a new permanent member.

“Now, for the first time in U.N. history, there is a real prospect that action will be taken, with extensive support from the member states,” Koizumi said.

“Building on this momentum, we must pursue an early decision for Security Council reform in this session of the General Assembly.”

Pundits saw this reference to the current yearlong General Assembly session, which only began Wednesday, as a sign that Japan doesn’t think it will attain its goal anytime soon.

Koizumi’s speech was also toned down from last year, when he became the first Japanese leader to make a strong pitch before the U.N. General Assembly for a permanent seat.

While his predecessors were more modest about Japan’s intention to become a permanent Security Council member starting in 1994, Koizumi said last September, “We believe that the role that Japan has played provides a solid basis for its assumption of permanent membership on the Security Council.”

This year, Koizumi’s remarks came days after member states agreed that Security Council reform, once intended to be resolved at the same time as the U.N. summit, was to be brought before the General Assembly “by the end of the year.”

Japan will undoubtedly carry on with efforts to reform the Security Council by continuing consultations with Germany, Brazil and India — its partners in the so-called Group of Four who are all seeking permanent seats on an expanded council — but the road is sure to be rocky.

In the G4 foreign ministerial talks Thursday in New York, the countries could not lay out a specific strategy and basically ended up only reaffirming solidarity in their continued bids to become permanent Security Council members.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura emphasized to his G4 partners the need to work with China and the United States — two of the Security Council’s five permanent members that opposed the G4 resolution on expanding the body.

But Machimura later hinted to reporters traveling with him that Japan may consider working with another country or group in seeking a permanent seat on the council.

“It’s not that we will immediately decide we no longer want to work as the G4, but we must think carefully about whether to continue efforts as the G4 by reviewing our activities over the past year,” Machimura said Friday night at a New York hotel.

A Foreign Ministry source admitted, “None of the G4 countries has a striking idea as to how to go about matters in terms of our next move.”

A senior ministry official also expressed weariness that the government’s all-out efforts from spring to summer this year did not bear fruit, saying the next opportunity may not come around for another decade or so.

The G4 missed a big opportunity in August when its effort to join hands with the largest single grouping in the United Nations hit a snag: The 53-member African Union decided not to pursue a joint resolution on expanding the Security Council.

Even if Japan can put together a resolution on Security Council expansion with enough support to gain at least two-thirds of the votes from the 191 U.N. member states necessary for adoption, hurdles remain.

Winning the new seats also requires a two-thirds vote by the General Assembly, and the adoption of a resolution on a revised U.N. Charter reflecting the council’s new makeup must be approved by the current five permanent Security Council members.

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