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Japan minister denies rift over nuclear weapons

Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, Oct 25 (Reuters) Japan's Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma said today the country should not develop nuclear weapons to counter a North Korean threat and denied there was aclash within the cabinet over the issue.

''I believe the government's current policy of retaining its non-nuclear principles is the correct one,'' Kyuma told journalists in Tokyo.

An appearance of disagreement came yesterday when Foreign Minister Taro Aso told parliament debate over the issue should not be stifled, even though the government had no intention of lifting its long-standing ban.

Kyuma said the same day such a debate at a time of high tensions over North Korea could have strange results.

''If you read today's newspapers, you might get the impression that Mr Aso and I are at odds,'' Kyuma told reporters in Tokyo today.

''However, that is not the case. What he is saying is that the public should be aware of the reasons why it is better not to possess nuclear weapons. So our conclusions are the same,'' he added.

As the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks, on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Japan is highly sensitive about nuclear issues and even suggestions the country hold a debate about having nuclear weapons has created a controversy.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) party policy chief Shoichiro Nakagawa also urged debate on the issue a week ago.

''It would be one thing if developing nuclear weapons deterred other countries from developing them,'' said Kyuma, who was appointed head of the Defence Agency when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took over as prime minister in September.

''But on the contrary, possessing nuclear weapons can lead to a nuclear arms race,'' he added.

''Considering the situation in the world at present, it is important for Japan to remain under America's nuclear umbrella and make sure of that commitment,'' he added.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed America's security guarantees to Japan on a visit to Tokyo last week.

Kyuma declined to comment on how long it would take Japan to develop its own nuclear weapons should its policy change.

Japan has an extensive nuclear power network and a rocket programme, leading to speculation it could use its stockpiled plutonium to create a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead relatively quickly.

A report by Republicans on the US House Intelligence Committee shortly before Pyongyang carried out its nuclear test warned that such a move might push not just Japan but also South Korea and Taiwan into starting nuclear weapons programmes, posing a serious risk to regional stability.

REUTERS BDP BST1514

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