Photo/IllutrationPrime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters at the prime minister’s office in Tokyo on April 7. (Shigetaka Kodama)

Japan carefully avoided expressing outright support for the U.S. military strikes against Syria on April 7, while backing Washington's "determination" to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.

“The government of Japan supports the determination of the U.S. government that it will never allow the spread and use of chemical weapons,” Abe said.

"We understand that the United States took the action in order to prevent further aggravation of the situation.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied that his forces used chemical weapons April 4 to crush a rebel stronghold in Idlib province, northwestern Syria.

A high-ranking official of the Japanese government, explaining the background to Abe's statement, said, “We don’t have evidence that Syrian forces used chemical weapons."

A senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official weighed in, saying that there were insufficient grounds for staging the attacks under international laws.

"We cannot go so far as to express support for the U.S. administration (on the military strikes).”

When the U.S.-led Iraq War flared in 2003, the prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, immediately pledged his country's support for the action.

“Japan understands and supports the start of the use of force by the United States,” Koizumi said.

However, the weapons of mass destruction that the administration headed by George W. Bush asserted were the justification for the war were never found, casting doubts on Koizumi’s judgment.

Against this background, an executive of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party noted that Koizumi used "pretty strong language" to express Japan’s support for the Iraq War.

"But this time, the Japanese government did not offer such unqualified support."

Akira Kasai, the policy chief of the Japanese Communist Party, said: “The United States unilaterally staged the strikes in the absence of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The U.S. actions contravene the U.N. Charter and international laws.”

Kasai accused Abe of "taking a stand on the side that aggravates the civil war in Syria."

He called on Abe to immediately change course.

A young LDP lawmaker also noted that the United States has apparently not shown "objective evidence" of the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad regime.

"I think that Abe was overeager (to support the United States),” the legislator said.

In his statement, Abe referred to the developments in Syria to mention the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs.

“While the threat of weapons of mass destruction has become increasingly serious in East Asia as well, Japan highly values President (Donald) Trump’s strong commitment to the maintenance of the international order and to the peace and security of its allies and the world.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his hope that the U.S. military strikes against Syria will serve as a deterrence to North Korea.

“The threat of the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction is not limited to Syria. It could also occur in East Asia, such as North Korea,” Suga told reporters.

Abe expressed Japan's position on the U.S. action only after conferring with his ministers at a National Security Council meeting, which convened around 3 p.m. on April 7.

At a little past noon, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida repeatedly told reporters that the government was still trying to confirm the facts surrounding the missile attack.

A senior Foreign Ministry official said at the time that it would still take several hours before the government could decide its stance.