From: Mari Yamabuchi, Associated Press
Published November 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Defense Chief Says Nuclear Passage through Japan Waters May Be Unavoidable

TOKYO — Japan's defense chief said Friday that passage of vessels carrying nuclear weapons through Japanese waters may be unavoidable in emergency situations.

Fumio Kyuma told a lower house national security committee that despite Japan's anti-nuclear weapons policy, such an act may have to occur in extreme cases. Japan -- the only country to be attacked by a nuclear weapon -- has a three-pronged policy of not possessing, developing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.

Passage by U.S. war ships carrying nuclear weapons is "unavoidable in case of emergency," Kyuma said.

"Can we say, 'Don't go through there,' in an emergency?" Kyuma asked. "We expect the U.S. to give us a report afterward when that happened."

He said, however, that Tokyo and Washington have no mutual contingency plans about whether U.S. military vessels carrying nuclear weapons can enter the Japanese waters.

The defense chief's comment comes amid friction within Japanese political leaders over whether the country should discuss acquiring nuclear arms as a deterrent against North Korea, which carried out its first nuclear test last month.

Kyuma also said last week that there should be a debate on letting U.S. vessels with nuclear weapons into Japanese waters, triggering criticism from opposition lawmakers.

Last Friday, Kyuma said Japan's non-nuclear weapons policy was set before the 1977 extension of territorial waters from three nautical miles (5.4 kilometers; 3.3 miles) to 12 nautical miles (21.6 kilometers; 13.4 miles).

He said the situation has changed since and "we need to discuss, to clarify those things."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared that Japan will not consider developing its own nuclear weapons. But Foreign Minister Taro Aso and some other leaders of the ruling party have called for debate on going nuclear, following Pyongyang's test blast.

Japan's Cabinet last week said the country's pacifist constitution does not ban it from possessing nuclear weapons for self-defense, but stressed that Japan would stick to its policy of forbidding nuclear weapons on Japanese soil.

Source: Associated Press

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