Defense chief backtracks on policy barring naval vessels carrying nukes

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

Defense Agency chief Fumio Kyuma modified an earlier statement and said Sunday that Japan will stick to its policy of banning foreign vessels carrying nuclear weapons.

“It is the government’s position that Japan will not allow nuclear weapons in its territorial waters, and I understand that,” Kyuma said on a Fuji TV talk show.

Kyuma, speaking on the question of U.S. submarines with nuclear weapons entering Japanese waters, said Friday that the policy to “not possess, produce or allow in” nuclear weapons was set before the 1977 extension of territorial waters from 3 nautical miles to 12. “The situation has changed since,” Kyuma told reporters. “In those days, such vessels were allowed to travel freely just outside 3 nautical miles. The area is now inside territorial waters, but the question is, how come what used to be good until yesterday is not allowed today?

“We need to discuss, to clarify those things,” he said.

Kyuma’s remark met with strong criticism from opposition leaders.

Yukio Hatoyama, secretary general of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said Saturday that Kyuma’s comment “shows what the (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe government really is” and that this was the latest sign “the hawk is sharping its claws that it had previously been hiding.”

Mizuho Fukushima, head of the Social Democratic Party, denounced Kyuma’s remark as “dangerous” and called for his dismissal. She also indicated that her party will not agree to opening Diet debate on a proposed bill to upgrade the Defense Agency to full ministry status.

Kyuma’s comments came amid friction within the political establishment over whether the country should talk about acquiring nuclear arms as a deterrent to North Korea, which carried out its first nuclear test explosion last month.

Abe has declared that Japan will not consider developing its own nuclear weapons. But Foreign Minister Taro Aso and some other leaders of his party have called for debate on going nuclear since Pyongyang’s test blast.