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Japan Looks To Landmark Military Role In North Korean Crisis

Top Japanese Official Calls For Debate On Going Nuclear
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 15 - The policy chief of Japan's ruling party called Sunday for an active debate on developing atomic weapons due to the nuclear threat from North Korea. But Shoichi Nakagawa, a close aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said he did not for now support an atomic arsenal for Japan, which is the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack.

"I think discussions should be allowed. To ensure Japan will not be attacked, arguments could be made that going nuclear is one option," Nakagawa, the policy chief of the Liberal Democratic Party, told a television talk show. "I am not advocating it. We will not go nuclear. But discussions over the issue should be allowed," Nakagawa said.

Japan has campaigned for the global abolition of nuclear weapons and has a self-imposed policy against "possession, production and presence" of nuclear arms in its territory. Abe, despite his strong support for a greater military role for Japan, on Sunday again ruled out going nuclear in response to North Korea. "Even with North Korea declaring it has nuclear weapons, we will maintain our three-point policy against nuclear weapons," Abe said in the western city of Osaka in a campaign stop ahead of a parliamentary by-election next week.

Nakagawa's counterpart in New Komeito, a Buddhist-oriented party in the ruling coalition, said Japan should refuse even to discuss a nuclear option. "We will not have it," New Komeito policy chief Tetsuo Saito said of a nuclear arsenal. "I think such discussions themselves are not good because they would only cause doubts among foreign countries thinking we want to have a nuclear capability," Saito said.

The United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II in the world's only nuclear attacks, killing more than 210,000 people instantly or from horrific burns. Photo courtesy of AFP.

by Hiroshi Hiyama
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 15, 2006
Japan's foreign minister Sunday hailed UN sanctions on North Korea and said the country should provide support for the US military in inspecting Pyongyang's ships, a major step for the pacificist country. Hours after the UN Security Council's unanimous resolution in response to North Korea's declared nuclear test, Aso said it was "only natural" for Japan to help prevent military shipments.

"The resolution calls on countries to carry them out," Taro Aso said of inspections. "It is only natural to offer our cooperation."

Japan has been officially pacifist since its World War II defeat and its help to US military operations has been confined to far-away Afghanistan and Iraq.

Under a 1999 law, Japan can provide fuel and other back-end support to US warships in "surrounding areas", but the measure has never been used.

Aso suggested Japan could take part actively in ship inspections. Asked whether Japan should limit itself to logistical support, Aso said: "I don't think so. It will depend on the situation."

But such cooperation is set to be controversial both at home and abroad.

China, which has been trying to repair sour relations with Japan, has voiced reservations about inspections on North Korean ships even though it supported the unanimous UN resolution.

China, still bitter over Japan's past aggression in the region, had criticized Tokyo's groundbreaking military mission to Iraq.

But Aso said Japan was especially threatened by North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan's main island in 1998.

"With the resolution approved, I believe the eyes of the world are on the actions of Japan, which neighbors North Korea and is likely to be the most significantly affected by the crisis," Aso said.

"Basically speaking, countries under threat from a nuclear power must defend themselves. Our job is to minimize the damage to Japan," Aso said.

The foreign minister made his comments as the policy chief of Japan's ruling party called for an active debate on developing atomic weapons.

Shoichi Nakagawa, a close aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said he did not for now support an atomic arsenal for Japan, but that "discussions should be allowed" on the subject.

But Abe reiterated that Japan -- the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack -- should not develop atomic weapons.

Abe's view comes despite his passionate support for increasing Japan's military role. Abe took office last month with rewriting the pacifist US-imposed 1947 constitution a top item on his agenda.

Japan has the world's fourth largest defense budget, but its post-World War II military is known as the "Self-Defense Forces" and has never fired a shot.

Abe, who rose to popularity by championing a tough line against North Korea, vowed Sunday that Japan "will take measures to stop the possession of any nuclear capability and nuclear proliferation."

"With the resolution, the international community has been able to send a strong message that we do not tolerate possession of nuclear weapons" by North Korea, Abe told reporters.

Abe said Japan was looking at additional sanctions it can take in line with the Security Council resolution, which demands the elimination of all North Korean nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Japan has already imposed most sanctions at its disposal. It last week banned all North Korean imports and ships and the entry into Japan by most North Korean nationals.

Despite North Korea's pariah status, assistance to US forces so close to home is controversial in Japan and Aso said the government may ask parliament for special approval for the potential mission.

New Komeito, a Buddhist-oriented pacifist party in Abe's coalition, has reportedly been hesitant about a Japanese military role in the North Korea crisis.

earlier related report
Japan Should Help US Military On North Korea Says Foreign Minister
Tokyo (AFP) Oct 15 - Japan should provide support to the US military in potential inspections of North Korean ships under the new UN Security Council resolution, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Sunday. "The resolution calls on countries to carry out (inspections). It is only natural to offer our cooperation," Aso told reporters.

Japan has been officially pacifist since its defeat in World War II.

Under a 1999 law, Japan can provide fuel and other back-end support to US warships in "surrounding areas".

The law has never been applied, although Japan has provided logistical support in the Indian Ocean to US-led military operations in Afghanistan.

China, Pyongyang's main ally, supported the UN resolution slapping sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear test, but has voiced reservations about provisions calling for inspections of ships going to and from the country.

Aso said Japan was especially threatened by North Korea, which fired a missile over Japan's main island in 1998.

"With the resolution approved, I believe the eyes of the world are on the actions of Japan, which neighbors North Korea and is likely to be the most significantly affected by the crisis," Aso said.

"Basically speaking, countries under threat from a nuclear power must defend themselves. Our job is to minimize the damage to Japan," Aso said.

"We will study what kind of legal framework we will use" to provide such support, the foreign minister said.

Aso appeared to support Japan taking part in the inspections with its allies themselves instead of only offering back-end support.

When asked if Japan should only offer logistical support, Aso said: "I don't think so. It will depend on the situation."

But any Japanese assistance to US forces is likely to be controversial both abroad and at home.

New Komeito, a Buddhist-oriented partner in the ruling coalition, has reportedly been hesitant about Japanese military support for cargo inspections.

Opposition lawmakers have also criticized Japanese military operations in the past, saying that troops or the coast guard would violate the pacifist constitution if they opened fire.

Despite the 1999 law, Aso said the government would consider asking parliament to enact a special measure to authorize help to potential US inspections.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who took office last month, is a passionate advocate of increasing Japan's military role and wants to rewrite the pacifist US-imposed 1947 constitution.

Japan has the world's fourth largest defense budget, but its troops are known as the "Self-Defense Forces" due to the constitution.

Previous prime minister Junichiro Koizumi took the breakthrough step in 2003 of ordering troops to Iraq, the first time since World War II that Japanese forces have deployed to a country where fighting is underway.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Bush, Chinese Official Agree On Strong Measures On North Korea
Aboard Air Force One (AFP) Oct 12, 2006
US President George W. Bush met Thursday with a top Chinese official who agreed on the need for "strong measures" against North Korea following Pyongyang's nuclear test announcement, US officials said.







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