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Armitage trip highlights U.S. isolation

By P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE Aug. 28. Completing a visit of sensitive Asian states, the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, said in Tokyo today that he "did not come (there) to ask anything of Japan", especially as regards America's current exercise of weighing its options, including a military strike, to bring about a regime change in Iraq. Mr. Armitage has held talks in Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, China and Japan during his current tour.

Regional tensions, such as the internal crisis in Sri Lanka, the collapsing India-Pakistan contacts and the China-Taiwan standoff, dominated his discussions for the most part. However, Mr. Armitage's agenda included soundings to ascertain the likely responses to America's thinking on Iraq.

This aspect of his visit could hardly be concealed in Tokyo, where the Japanese political establishment and opinion makers were equally eager to let the U.S. know of their collective dismay over the possibility of an American military strike against Iraq in the name of an extended anti-terror war. In China, on the other hand, Beijing made its mood clear by hosting the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri Ahmed, however coincidentally, at the same time as Mr. Armitage's sojourn in Beijing prior to his arrival in Tokyo. Mr. Armitage sensed that the political leaders and opinion makers in Tokyo were keen to project the image of a Japan that can say "no" to America on the Iraq issue.

It was in this context that Mr. Armitage asserted that he was not asking anything of Japan at this stage. Yet, he chose to explain in Tokyo that the U.S. might be in a position, sooner than later, to make a "compelling case for regime change in Iraq". In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Tang Jiaxuan, told his Iraqi counterpart that China would, in its status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, play a "positive role" to promote an early resolution of the question of regime change in Baghdad and of sustainable sanctions on the people of Iraq.

It was in this milieu that Mr. Tang warned the international community that any actual use of force or the political threat of force against Iraq would only heighten regional instability and tensions.

With India, too, making its views known on this issue of regime change in Iraq, the diplomatic circles in the Asia-Pacific region were quick to point out how the U.S. stood isolated insofar as this question was concerned despite Mr. Armitage's current efforts.

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