Japan refrains from backing joint statement against nuclear weapon use

Japan did not join a group of countries endorsing a statement against the use of nuclear weapons announced Wednesday by South Africa at a preparatory committee for the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review meeting.

The statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons urges that nuclear weapons never be used under any circumstances. According to South African delegation officials, Japan sought to eliminate the wording of "under any circumstances."

Mari Amano, the ambassador of the Japanese delegation to the Conference on Disarmament, said, "It differed from the policy of the Japanese government to undertake procedures for nuclear abolition in phases."

"While we did not endorse the statement this time, we endorse (the idea of) the overall contents," Amano said. "If a similar statement is unveiled, we could endorse it."

More than 70 countries endorsed the statement issued at the Second Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of NPT parties in Geneva.

The joint statement says nuclear weapons have an immense destructive capability and brought on vast damage through the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as nuclear tests. The only way to ensure that they will never be used again is through elimination, it says.

Just before the opening of the preparatory committee meeting, Switzerland asked for Japan's endorsement but the Japanese Foreign Ministry withheld a response.

It is believed that some quarters within the Japanese government were opposed to making such endorsement because they were concerned that fully endorsing the statement could affect the nuclear deterrence that the United States provides to Japan and undermine deterrence against North Korea, which has threatened to use nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui told Kyodo News after the meeting ended, "I don't understand why (Japan) doesn't support it."

Matsui said the statement "embodies the wish (for nuclear abolition) held by Hiroshima."

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue issued a comment in which he said that Japan's failure to support the statement "trampled on the efforts made so far by hibakusha (atomic bomb victims) and disappointed many other countries seeking nuclear abolition."

"It is a denial of an opportunity to underscore the inhuman nature of nuclear weapons, and I lodge a strong protest," he added.

Both mayors were in Geneva to give speech at the preparatory committee.

Akira Kawasaki, an executive member of the civic group Peace Boat, said, "Being a victim of nuclear bombings, Japan, by not taking part, will impede international discussions on the inhuman aspect of nuclear weapons."

The joint statement had initially been set for release on Tuesday but its announcement was sharply delayed because of committee proceedings. A South African diplomatic source said they attempted to persuade Japan into endorsing it through the intermediary of Switzerland until just before the announcement of the statement.