March 29, 2017 7:30 am JST

Atomic bomb survivor blasts Japan for skipping UN talks

Call for ban on nukes falls on deaf ears as nuclear-armed states boycott

ARIANA KING, Nikkei staff writer

UNITED NATIONS -- Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow condemned the Japanese government for its "inability to fully commit" to a U.N. conference to negotiate a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons and called on the government to align itself with the Japanese people, rather than with military ally the U.S.

"[The Japanese government claims] to be playing a vital role in nuclear disarmament by bringing foreign dignitaries to Hiroshima with the hope that they will learn the reality of nuclear catastrophe," Thurlow told representatives gathered at the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday for a second day of negotiations. "But these are empty, evasive actions as they continue to take shelter under the United States' nuclear umbrella."

Nobushige Takamizawa, Japan's ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, delivered a statement on behalf of the Japanese government at the opening of the conference on Monday, but announced that "it would be difficult for Japan to participate" in the conference further. Japan was absent from the talks Tuesday.

"This negotiation has not been formulated to pursue nuclear disarmament measures that will actually lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons, in cooperation with the nuclear weapon states," Takamizawa said in his remarks.

The response to Takamizawa's statement was cold. "The Japanese government official's speech deepened hibakusha's feeling of being continuously betrayed and abandoned by their own country," Thurlow said, using the Japanese term for survivors of the atomic bomb attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Japan sponsors a U.N. resolution each year on working toward eradicating nuclear weapons. The decision of whether to participate in a ban treaty is complicated by its military alliance with the U.S., which has one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals and has been actively campaigning against the negotiations.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley called a news conference Monday outside the General Assembly to protest the negotiations, backed by representatives from 20-odd countries, including nuclear umbrella state South Korea.

"In this day and time, we can't honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have [nuclear weapons], and those of us that are good -- trying to keep peace and safety -- not to have them," Haley told reporters. "Is there anyone that believes that North Korea would agree to a ban on nuclear weapons?" she asked.

Joining her, ambassadors from nuclear allies the U.K. and France voiced opposition to an outright nuclear weapons ban, instead arguing for step-by-step disarmament within pre-existing disarmament frameworks. Almost 40 countries would be joining in boycotting the conference, Haley said. So far, no nuclear-armed country has participated in the negotiations.

The security argument touted by nuclear weapons states is "an irony," said Akira Kawasaki, a representative of Peace Boat, a Japanese nonprofit group that promotes peace and human rights. "Nuclear weapons are so dangerous that once used by accident or intention, literally everyone in the world will be at stake for their survival," Kawasaki said in a joint interview with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, ahead of the opening of the conference.

Governments need to do more on disarmament, "particularly now when the stakes are so high in the world and concern about a nuclear war or nuclear detonation and a risk for that is increasing," ICAN Executive Director Beatrice Fihn said.

"At this point you have Donald Trump, who is reviewing if he's even committed to a world free of nuclear weapons," Fihn said, in reference to comments that the U.S. president has made, including through a tweet suggesting that the U.S. "greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability" -- a reversal of previous U.S. commitments to disarmament. All U.S. allies, including Japan, need to evaluate whether they are willing to stand with President Trump on that, Fihn said.

"Being a good friend and a good ally means that sometimes you stand up for what's right and say when they're wrong," she said.

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