ISLAMABAD (Kyodo) Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said Saturday that since Japan is negotiating a deal with India to cooperate on peaceful uses for nuclear energy, the same cooperation should be extended to his country.

“If Japan is willing to cooperate with India in nuclear technology and (is) giving nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, I do not see any reason why we should not deserve the same,” Zardari said in an interview with the Japanese media on the eve of his departure for a three-day visit to Japan.

“I do not know what questions would be raised during discussion. It depends,” he said when asked if he will raise the question of nuclear technology cooperation during the visit.

Zardari recognizes that nuclear power is a sensitive issue for the Japanese people and government.

Neither India nor Pakistan are signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and the talks between Japan and India have triggered an outcry from survivors of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who fear such a deal will hamper global efforts to bring about a world without nuclear weapons.

Japanese firms, however, are keen to export nuclear power generation technology and related equipment to India, which plans to build 20 new nuclear power plants by 2020.

Zardari said Pakistan never wanted to go nuclear but it was forced to do so when archrival India detonated a nuclear device in 1974 and again in 1998.

He denied a recent newspaper report that the number of nuclear weapons possessed by Pakistan exceeds that of India, saying, “There is always a difference between facts and fantasy.”

Asked if Pakistan seeks to expand its nuclear arsenal, the president said his government does not want to see an arms race in the region and advocates a nuclear-free South Asia.

During his visit to Japan, Zardari is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and meet with Japanese business leaders and companies doing business with Pakistan.

He said he will strive to make the people and government of Japan aware of Pakistan’s situation and the challenges it faces.

Zardari projected Pakistan as a destination for Japanese investment, calling on Japanese investors to make use of proposed economic zones in his country.

He urged leading Japanese automakers with assembly plants in Pakistan, which exclusively cater to the local market, to export locally made vehicles to markets in Asia and Africa.

There is also great potential for bilateral cooperation in the services industry, he said.

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