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Why Japan doesn't sign nuclear arms ban treaty

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Japan Nuclear

Protesters hold anti-nuclear flags upon the arrival of the Pacific Egret cargo vessel, left in background, carrying MOX, a mixture of plutonium and uranium fuel, at Takahama nuclear power plant in Takahama, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017. A shipload of nuclear fuel containing plutonium returned to Japan after reprocessing in France for use at the Takahama plant as the country tries to burn more plutonium amid international concerns about its stockpile. The plant’s operator, Kansai Electric Power Co., said the nuclear fuel is used at its No. 4 reactor, right in background. Second from right in the background is No. 3 reactor. (Madoka Ogawa/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan, the only country to have suffered atomic bomb attacks, has repeatedly called for a global ban on nuclear weapons. Yet it sided with the nuclear powers and NATO in refusing to sign a treaty to ban such weapons during the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

The treaty, the first of its kind, was signed Wednesday by 50 countries, just enough for it to take effect. The signatories are barred from developing, testing, producing, acquiring, possessing or stockpiling nuclear weapons.

Here's a look at what's behind Japan's reasoning:

TOKYO UNDER U.S. NUCLEAR UMBRELLA

Japan, as a close U.S. ally, is protected by America's extended nuclear deterrence, or "nuclear umbrella," even though Tokyo renounces its own possession, production or entry of nuclear weapons on its turf. That makes it difficult for Tokyo to sign the treaty especially as it steps up its military role amid North Korea's missile and nuclear threats. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hawkish government, the two countries have stepped up bilateral security cooperation. Besides Japan, most U.S. allies — almost all NATO members, South Korea and Australia — also did not participate in the talks on the treaty.


AP Explains Japan

FILE - In this Aug. 6, 2015, file photo, Kazumi Matsui, right, mayor of Hiroshima, and the family of the deceased bow before they place the victims list of the Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima Memorial Cenotaph during the ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the bombing at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, western Japan. The outspoken mayor praised atomic bombing survivors, or "hibakusha," for their lifelong devotion to the effort. He urged Japan's government to change its policy of relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella and join the nuclear prohibition treaty as soon as possible. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

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A TREATY LONG PURSUED BY HIBAKUSHA

Most atomic bombing survivors, or "hibakusha," have made lifetime devotion to achieving a nuclear-free world, and their decades-long steady effort has been regarded as a driving force for that cause. Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Toshiki Fujimori, a leader of Japan's main group for the survivors, says nuclear weapons are absolutely "incompatible" with humans, and the treaty is a first step. He says Japan should sign, and its refusal to do so broke the hearts of many survivors, including his own. During the Aug. 9 memorial service in Nagasaki, the city's outspoken Mayor Tomihisa Taue criticized Abe's government for not joining the treaty, accusing it of making empty promises about achieving a nuclear-free world. He said Japan's absence is "incomprehensible" especially to those in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the two U.S. attacks in August 1945 killed more than 210,000 people by the end of that year.

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AP Explains Japan

FILE - In this May 26, 2016, file photo, people gather around the gutted Atomic Bomb Dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, southwestern Japan. Japan, despite Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it’s “never again” to use of nuclear weapons, joined the nuclear powers and NATO in not signing this treaty. Because It’s a close U.S. ally and it’s protected by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama, File)

JAPAN SAYS TREATY SPLITS TWO SIDES, WANTS TO BRIDGE THE GAP

Japan's top government officials say the country did not sign because its approach to achieving a nuclear weapons ban is different from the treaty, even though nuclear abolition is their ultimate shared goal. Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters in New York that nuclear weapons states and non-nuclear nations have been divided, and there is even a gap among non-nuclear countries over how realistically they should achieve the goal. Kono said Japan seeks to reach out to both sides in hopes of serving as a bridge and create a common ground where everyone can join for the shared goal of nuclear disarmament and abolition.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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