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Japan refuses to shut Iraqi embassy

TOKYO, March 26 (UPI) -- Japan Wednesday rejected a U.S. request to close the Iraqi Embassy in Tokyo, saying it was important to maintain diplomatic channels with Baghdad.

"There is no need to close the embassy," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. "It is up to Japan to make its own decision" on the issue.

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Following the start of U.S.-led hostilities against Iraq, President Bush had asked several countries to shut Iraqi embassies and expel that country's diplomats. He said they represented a "corrupt and ruthless regime."

Senior Vice Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Japan had conveyed its decision to Washington on Tuesday. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said it was important to maintain diplomatic channels with Iraq.

The Kyodo News Service reported Japan had also confirmed the presence of an Iraqi intelligence official among the diplomatic staff at the embassy, but the person was not expected to be expelled.

Japan supports the U.S.-led war on Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein of his suspected weapons of mass destruction, and the bid to topple him.

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