• Kyodo

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U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage brushed aside speculation Tuesday that Japan may arm itself with atomic weapons in response to North Korea’s nuclear arms programs.

“As long as the United States continues to provide the nuclear umbrella, Japan will not arm in a nuclear fashion,” Armitage said in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

With North Korea admitting to having a uranium enrichment program and restarting operations of nuclear facilities for suspected nuclear arms development, there has been growing talk in the U.S. about the possibility of Japan building a nuclear arsenal.

Armitage stressed the need for the U.S. to maintain a close security alliance with Japan to prevent Tokyo from seeking a nuclear arsenal.

“If, however, Japan begins to question our affection or our alliance, then it would lead to a rather destabilizing situation,” he said.

Vice ministers to meet

Japan and the United States will hold vice ministerial-level talks starting this weekend on diplomatic strategy regarding North Korea and Iraq, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

The two days of talks in Washington between Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage begin Sunday.

They will be held ahead of Wednesday’s emergency session by a governing body of the International Atomic Energy Agency to discuss the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear development program.

The meeting comes as the U.S. is threatening to go to war with Iraq if it refuses to dismantle suspected programs to build weapons of mass destruction.

Although the bilateral strategic dialogue is intended as a framework for discussions on medium- and long-term issues, the upcoming talks are expected to focus on these two problems.

On Monday, Japan, the U.S. and Australia will hold a trilateral meeting on similar issues. Ashton Calvert, secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will represent Australia.

“The meeting will be an important phase in resolving the issue of North Korea,” a senior Foreign Ministry official said. “North Korea is at the stage where it has to (compromise).”

U.S. spy satellites have reportedly detected what appear to be trucks moving North Korea’s stockpile of nuclear fuel rods from storage.

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