HOLD the Toyotas, load the GIs. That, in essence, is the request from Washington to Tokyo, asking Japan to divert ships normally used for transporting carsfor export to the task of carrying United States soldiers for combat to the Middle East.
Just how Japan responds to this latest US request for action against Iraq will likely not be known until later today, when a package of measures is expected to be announced.
Japanese leaders have been divided for weeks over how to respond to the Iraqi invasion, with final decisions being forced by US pressure and United Nations approval of military force to enforce an economic blockade.
Even after the package is announced, officials expect much resistance from opposition leaders and private business in implementing the measures. For instance, the airline and shipping industries strongly oppose a measure to have the government charter private planes and freighters to carry supplies to the Middle East.
Also, some critics say that some military personnel might end up being sent to the Middle East, violating Japan's so-called ``peace'' Constitution. ``It is out of the question for us to send arms, ammunition, or soldiers,'' said Vice Minister of Transport Junji Hayashi.
Ichiro Ozawa, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, was roundly criticized when he suggested that Japan should send its troops to the Middle East. He later suggested that Japanese law should be changed to allow it to respond to future international crises.
The daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, reported yesterday that Japan would provide $1.5 billion to $2 billion in economic aid to countries directly affected by the UN embargo, including Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan.
When asked if such aid might provoke Iraq to harm Japanese hostages, Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama said that the root problem was Japan's high use of oil and its dependency on Middle East supplies. ``Just offering money will not be enough'' to satisfy foreign demands in this crisis, added Mr. Nakayama.