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Asia Reacts to State of the Union Speech

President Bush's call for America to brace for a possible war with Iraq -- and his indication Washington may act alone -- prompted cheers from some but also deepened doubts from a world not yet convinced war is the only answer.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, one of Washington's staunches allies, said he welcomed the announcement that more intelligence information would be supplied to the Security Council next week.

"That puts (the issue) right at the feet of the Security Council where the matter belongs," he said, after listening to Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday.

Australia already has sent elite commandos and a navy transport ship to the Persian Gulf to prepare for possible military strikes on Iraq.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was more cautious.

She said the Bush speech signaled that "we are going to see the United States step up its persuasion efforts at the U.N Security Council" over Iraq, adding that everything indicated Washington would act unilaterally.

But she told National Radio that most nations would be reluctant to move with the United States until U.N. weapons inspectors had come to a definitive conclusion.

In Japan, officials said they would not have an immediate response to Bush's State of the Union speech, which was broadcast live and uncut by public broadcaster NHK. The speech also headlined major afternoon newspapers, which also underscored the talk of war.

"One step closer to final stage," said the generally liberal Asahi, one of Japan's biggest dailies.

"The U.S. position that disarmament cannot be achieved without military intervention is flawed," the daily said in its morning edition, printed before the speech.

Along with concerns over Iraq, many in Asia worried about what Bush's rhetoric meant for conflicts closer to home.

Bush railed against North Korea as an oppressive regime that leaves its people "living in fear and starvation." He further accused the country of using its nuclear program to extract concessions from the United States.

NHK commentators noted that Japan was paying special attention to distinctions Bush's calls for international cooperation in resolving the dispute with North Korea, in contrast to his more hawkish approach on Iraq.

In India, some diplomatic experts were disappointed in Bush's apparent to lack patience for Iraq.

"I don't think Bush is going to give much time to Iraq," said Kanti Bajpai, a professor of international relations in New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University. "It is hard to imagine that he will wait for very, very long unless there is a dramatic change in Iraq."

Other countries seemed to be bracing for war as well.

The Philippines, which gets more than half of its oil from the Gulf, announced Wednesday contingency plans to ensure a stable supply of oil in case of a war in Iraq.

Energy Secretary Vincent Perez told reporters that after assessing international and domestic developments affecting the oil industry, he has decided to require oil refiners and bulk suppliers to maintain the required minimum inventory starting Feb. 3.

No TV channels in China broadcast Bush's speech live -- standard practice for the government-controlled networks that rarely show anything live or unedited.