Japan Criticizes U.S. Over Iraq War

The Associated Press
Friday, January 26, 2007; 1:58 AM

TOKYO -- Japan's defense minister backtracked Friday on earlier comments criticizing the United States' decision to invade Iraq as a mistake, but said he thought the decision should have been more cautiously made.

"I did not say it was a mistake, but I thought at the time (the U.S.) should have been more cautious," Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said Friday in response to a reporter's question after a Cabinet meeting.

Kyuma also suggested that English translations of his remarks had led to some of the confusion.

"Instead of being in the past tense, the comment came out very strongly. Perhaps it's the difference between Japanese and English," he said.

Kyuma told a news conference Wednesday that President Bush's decision to invade Iraq "based on an assumption that weapons of mass destruction existed was a mistake."

The remarks stood as a rare criticism from Washington's closest Asian ally, and diverged from Tokyo's policy of backing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. In the aftermath, Kyuma has been under intense pressure to step back from the comments.

Kyuma told reporters Thursday he stood behind the Cabinet's position, and said his comments questioning the decision to invade Iraq represented only his personal view.

He also met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that evening to discuss the remarks, and held talks separately with Foreign Minister Taro Aso Friday morning.

Kyuma's remarks on Wednesday came hours after Bush's State of the Union address in which he urged Congress to back his plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq.

Despite Bush's plan to boost troop numbers, Japan will not hastily decide whether to continue to provide airlifts in support of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, Kyuma said Wednesday. The airlifts are set to end in July.

Japan sent ground troops to Iraq's south on a humanitarian mission after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but its contingent was pulled out last year.

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