A STATEMENT by President Bush and an embarrassing brawl among Japanese politicians have helped to stall a bill that would authorize the first overseas dispatch of Japan's Army since World War II.The bill, which would allow the military to join United Nations peacekeeping forces, legally sidesteps a constitutional mandate against Japan ever using force in international conflicts. It requires that Japanese troops serve only when a cease-fire is in place and, in certain cases, outside the UN command. Despite these restraints, some members of the socialist and communist parties, who oppose any revival of Japanese militarism, triggered a violent melee in a lower-house committee on Nov. 27, when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) sought to pass the bill. The brawl, seen widely on television, stunned a nation bred on the notion that Japan is both pacifist and a democracy. The new prime minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, was criticized by many LDP members for "mismanagement" of the bill, along with inaction on political reform and on settling a dispute with Washington over a rice-import ban. After the bill finally won passage last week in the lower house, where the LDP holds a majority, it went to the upper house, which is dominated by the opposition. To win passage of the bill, the LDP leaders took advantage of the Pearl Harbor anniversary to offer a resolution - an official apology for starting the Pacific War - aimed at pleasing the United States. The resolution would also have served as a chip to bargain with Japan's anti-military opposition parties. If the resolution had passed, the LDP might have won key support for its UN peacekeeping bill, and the opposition would have gained a long-sought admission from the LDP that Japan was responsible for the war. The LDP eagerly sought the bill in time to deploy troops with a UN force going into Cambodia possibly next month, and also to counter US criticism that Japan was only willing to bankroll American troops in the Gulf war, and was not willing to send its own personnel. But then in a Dec. 1 television interview, Bush strongly rejected an idea of offering an apology for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saying the bombs ended the war and saved American lives. He said an apology would be "rank revisionism." Since most members of both the LDP and opposition parties publicly regard the atomic bombing as an unjustified act against civilians, and as having done little to end the war, moves to pass the resolution with the Japanese apology for the war were dropped, and at the same time Bush's comments helped to halt any compromise on the UN bill. The parliament, faced with an important budget bill, is set to adjourn tomorrow. Most LDP officials seem ready to wait until January, when the Diet (parliament) resumes, before passing the UN peacekeeping bill through the upper house. To win passage of the bill, the LDP only needs the support of one more small opposition party, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), having already gained support from the Clean Government Party. But the DSP insists that the bill include a provision stipulating that a dispatch of troops would be assessed by the Diet six months after deployment. The LDP only agreed to parliamentary review every two years after dispatch, citing a need to fulfill the expectations of other nations. After it became clear that the Diet would not approve the apology for the war, Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe moved to head off any criticism from the US by releasing a statement on Dec. 8 (Dec. 7 in the US) saying that Japan is "deeply remorseful" over its past actions at Pearl Harbor and in Asia. But his use of the word "remorseful" in English differed from his statement in Japanese, which used hansei, meaning soul-searching or reflecting on past deeds. Officials have often used milder words to domestic audiences when speaking of war responsibility in order to avoid criticism from right-wingers. Officials in China, South Korea, and the Philippines have expressed some criticism of the bill, although Japanese officials say such comments have not influenced the debate.