Thu, Oct 26, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Japanese defense chief pours water on `careless debate' about nuclear weapons

SENSITIVE General Fumio Kyuma's comments come on the back of recent calls for public debate about the nuclear option in light of North Korea's test on Oct. 9

AP , TOKYO

Japan should not engage in "careless debate" on whether it should posses nuclear weapons, the country's defense chief said yesterday.

The National Defense Agency Director-General Fumio Kyuma said that the country has no intention of going nuclear despite the recent nuclear test by North Korea and said Tokyo will strongly abide by its long-standing non-nuclear policies.

"We should avoid careless debate," he told a news conference. "We have advanced technology and missile capabilities so perhaps we do have the potential to make nuclear arms. But we are not going to do so."

Some prominent Japanese politicians, including Foreign Minister Taro Aso, have suggested that Japan at least discuss the issue of developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent against North Korea. Aso, however, also has insisted that the government would not change its non-nuclear policy.

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

Kyuma is a Nagasaki native.

"I'm from Nagasaki," he said. "I hope that Nagasaki will be the last place on Earth ever to suffer a nuclear attack."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last Wednesday also said Tokyo had no plans to stray from its postwar non-nuclear policy, but Aso's comment is only the latest among Japanese leaders calling for debate of the nuclear option.

Ruling party leader Shoichi Nakagawa caused a stir earlier this month for making similar remarks. Former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has also proposed Japan consider acquiring nuclear weapons.

US officials have expressed concerns that North Korea's nuclear development could spur an arms race in Northeast Asia.

Kyuma concurred, and said Japan's best option is to use the nuclear capabilities of its closest ally, the US, as a deterrent while not actually possessing nuclear arms of its own.

"I believe it is correct to strongly defend our current non-nuclear principles," he said. "It is important for us to work under the US nuclear umbrella."

Kyuma said doubt still remains as to whether the North's test on Oct. 9 was successful, though he said it is virtually certain that a nuclear device was involved.

"It was very weak, which has made verification more difficult," he said.

But he added that the US has detected signs that strongly indicate it was not the result of conventional explosives.

Kyuma renewed Japan's demand that the North return to multilateral talks aimed at getting it to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and added that it must also allow international inspections.

"Just a promise won't be enough," he said.

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