Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Despite non-nuclear policy, Japan is willing to debate

AP , TOKYO

Japan should openly discuss the possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons in light of North Korea's atomic test, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said yesterday.

Aso, however, reiterated the government position that Tokyo had no plans to stray from its postwar policy of not possessing, developing or allowing nuclear bombs on Japanese soil.

"When a neighboring country is going to have nuclear weapons, one can refuse to even consider the matter," he told a parliamentary committee, adding, however, that it was nevertheless important to discuss the issue.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared last week that Japan would not change its non-nuclear policy, despite North Korea's Oct. 9 detonation of an atomic device.

Possession of nuclear weapons is a sensitive political issue in Japan, the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack when US atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Aso said Tokyo had no plans to develop the weapons, though he suggested to the committee that it was odd that Japan had never openly discussed it.

"Japan's position to stick to its three non-nuclear principles will not change," he said.

"But the issue of nuclear possession has been discussed by many people for decades, and it is only in Japan where the discussion about its own nuclear possession is completely absent," Aso added.

Shoichi Nakagawa, a top Liberal Democratic Party official, spurred debate about Japan's nuclear policy over the weekend after he suggested that Tokyo should talk about the weapons "because countries with nuclear weapons don't get attacked."

He was forced to clarify his opposition to nuclear weapons on Monday, and his weekend comments prompted Abe to repeat his pledge not to change Japan's non-nuclear policy.

Analysts have said Japan has the knowledge, the industrial capacity -- and enough plutonium and uranium from its nuclear power program -- to easily develop nuclear weapons should it decide to.

Such a move would be strongly opposed by China and other countries in the region. US officials have also expressed concerns that North Korea's nuclear development could spur an arms race in Asia.

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