Japan has no intention of going nuclear but there is still room for debate on the issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday as he defended key Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who have been criticized for comments suggesting that the matter needs to be discussed.

At a head-to-head debate in the Upper House with Ichiro Ozawa, head of the Democratic Party of Japan, Abe repeatedly stressed that his Cabinet, LDP policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa and Foreign Minister Taro Aso remain committed to the country’s three nonnuclear principles — not to develop, possess or allow the entry of nuclear weapons into Japan.

But Abe said it would be going too far to stifle debate on the issue, adding that more North Korean atomic tests would only intensify calls in Japan for debate on whether the nation should adopt a nuclear deterrent.

Ozawa, however, argued that the Cabinet’s inconsistency — stating that Japan will maintain the nonnuclear principles while allowing questions to be raised about the policy — is hurting Japan’s image.

This apparent contradiction “will make it difficult for the Japanese public as well as the international community to accept without argument that Japan stands by the three nonnuclear principles,” Ozawa said. “As (the party) that runs the government, (members) should be careful when making statements (regarding nuclear weapons) . . . and I believe the prime minister should warn them to refrain” from making such statements.

After the question-and-answer session, Ozawa told reporters he believes Abe agrees with Nakagawa and Aso about the need for a nuclear debate.

“To put it in simple terms, I believe Abe is saying there is nothing wrong with having a debate over possessing nuclear weapons,” he said, adding that Cabinet ministers and LDP executives who make such statements have a grave responsibility.

Ozawa pointed out that former DPJ lawmaker Shingo Nishimura resigned as a parliamentary vice minister in 1999 after saying in a magazine interview that Japan should debate whether to possess nuclear weapons.

“Even the parliamentary vice minister resigned,” Ozawa said. “That is how serious (this issue) is.”

Since North Korea declared its first atomic test on Oct. 9, Nakagawa and Aso have repeatedly said Japan should discuss going nuclear.

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