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Japanese PM Rejects Softening of Tokyo's Anti-Nuclear Stance

Japan's prime minister says his cabinet does not intend to develop nuclear weapons, rejecting comments from his chief spokesman suggesting a softening in Tokyo's anti-nuclear stance. The comments are the latest in a series of remarks from hawkish politicians seen as taking aim at Japan's pacifist principals.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made it clear that his government has no intention of abandoning Japan's so-called three non-nuclear principals. He says the government upholds the decades-old policy of not possessing, producing or importing nuclear arms.

That stance came into question on Friday in Tokyo. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, who is also the top government spokesman, told reporters there is no legal reason Japan could not have nuclear weapons. The chief cabinet secretary said that while it is his personal opinion that Japan could have nuclear arms, that is not the position of the government.

He went on to say that Japan could even have intercontinental ballistic missiles under its self-defense security policy. But minutes later, after consulting with his aides, he changed his comment, saying that under the country's self-defense policy, Japan could not have such missiles.

The comments touch on a taboo in this nation, the only one to ever suffer an atomic attack. Japanese voters generally have opposed nuclear weapons.

After returning to Japan on Saturday, Mr. Koizumi told reporters that the topic is not even worthy of serious discussion.

But other politicians have been discussing the matter lately. In April, the leader of the hawkish Liberal Party stated that Japan could easily make nuclear weapons to counter China's military power. And last month, Vice Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe was quoted as saying that it might be acceptable for Japan to possess small nuclear arms.

Asian neighbors, such as China and the Koreas, that suffered under Japan's military expansion in the first half of the 20th century, have reacted angrily to any signs Tokyo will bolster its military.