Japan considers changing constitution to help US

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Japan is considering enacting a new law that would broaden the self-defense force's responsibilities in overseas conflicts to allow it to contribute more to the American war against terrorism.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi insisted that Japan will not change its pacifist constitution, and that any legal revision will not involve putting Japanese soldiers into the battlefield.

But he opened the possibility of Japan contributing more - in terms of logistics and medical aid - to a coordinated attack by the US and its allies against the perpetrators of the terror assaults on New York and Washington.

During the Gulf War, Japan came under widespread criticism for contributing only money."We want to provide maximum support to the United States, our ally, with the cooperation of the Japanese people," Koizumi said. "Japan would like to take an active role in the fight against terrorism."

Earlier, Koizumi he may visit the United States to discuss last week's terror attacks with President George Bush.

There was no immediate plan for the trip, but Koizumi said he will consider one when the need arises, said his spokesman Tsutomu Himeno.

"The prime minister said he will consider the trip depending on developments," Himeno said.Meanwhile, Japanese authorities were investigating whether 19 suspected followers of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden have recently entered Japan.

"The authorities are currently confirming reports that there was such a move," Himeno said.Koizumi has repeatedly said Japan will back the United States in its expected retaliation to last week's deliberate crashing of jetliners into New York's World Trade Center and the pentagon in Washington, but has not disclosed specifics.

His ruling coalition has been pushing to allow Japan's military to help guard US bases here and possibly provide logistical support so the country can do more than offer financial support like it did during the Gulf War.

How to aid the United States is a matter of debate in Japan. Article 9 of the country's constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international conflicts, and prohibits the country from sending troops overseas.