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Asian Nations Split on Ultimatum Given to Iraq - 2003-03-18

Across Asia, opinion is split about the ultimatum issued by President Bush to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to step down from power. The Indonesian government is criticizing the United States for acting alone - while Japan is offering its support.

A spokesman for Indonesia's foreign ministry, Marty Natalegawa, says the U.S. ultimatum to Iraq comes too soon. "We regret the impressions being created that diplomacy has run its course and that what is basically ahead of us is the option to the use of force," he said. " We felt that diplomacy has begun to yield results." Indonesia has maintained that any effort to disarm Saddam Hussein should be led by the United Nations Security Council - and that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time to work in Iraq. "Certainly we feel that sort of statement done outside the context of the U.N. Security Council is not one that has a lot of credibility and legitimacy," said Mr. Natalegawa.

Indonesia is home to the world's largest population of Muslims. It also has been the site of the worst terrorist attack since the attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. Last October, nearly 200 people were killed when terrorists bombed a tourist nightspot in Bali. Nearly half of the dead were Australian tourists.

News reports say governments in Southeast Asia, especially predominately Muslim Indonesia and Malaysia, are concerned that terrorists sympathetic to Iraq might decide to target Western tourists and business people as they did in Bali.

But Rizal Mallarengeng from the Jakarta think tank, the Freedom Institute, thinks the anger at the United States will blow over, if the war is short. "The U.S. embassy might be surrounded by protesters, but if the war is quick, clean, and the people on the street of Baghdad rejoice, just like the Afghans did in Kabul - then I don't think there will be major problem," he said. "But if the war is protracted, then it might be a problem for us here." In the Philippines, a few dozen protesters scuffled with police outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Tuesday. The Philippine government is a strong ally of the United States, especially in countering regional terrorism. The Philippines has struggled for decades with Muslim separatist rebels, which some officials believe may be tied to regional and international terrorist organizations.

In Japan, the government is offering Washington its full support. In Tokyo Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said President Bush's ultimatum to Iraq was unavoidable.

Mr. Koizumi says that if the United States starts a military conflict along with Britain, Japan will support the decision. He says Japan will decide what it can do to rebuild Iraq after the war and maintain the security of the international community.