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Japan only country represented by foreign minister at nuclear treaty prep meeting

VIENNA -- Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is set to attend the upcoming first preparatory committee meeting for the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which kicks off here on May 2.

    Japan is expected to be the only country to be represented by its foreign minister while most of the 190 other participating countries and regions will dispatch ambassadors or department head-level officials to the meeting.

    Tokyo's move is aimed at strongly demonstrating Japan's enthusiasm about nuclear arms reductions as the only atomic-bombed country in the world. Japan had come under fire for not participating in negotiations on the Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC) in March.

    The NPT obligates the five recognized nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China -- to negotiate nuclear arms reductions and with non-nuclear nations to prevent nuclear proliferation, and provides for the right to use atomic power for peaceful purposes. The upcoming meeting will focus on these three fields.

    Since parties failed to adopt a final statement at the 2015 review committee conference, Japan is aiming to produce tangible results at the 2020 conference.

    At talks on the proposed NWC in March, non-nuclear countries frustrated with stalled nuclear arms reductions discussed a plan to adopt an NWC separate from the NPT framework.

    However, about 40 countries including the five recognized nuclear powers, NATO member countries that are under the U.S. nuclear umbrella and Japan that shows consideration to its relations with the U.S. did not participate in the meeting. This highlighted the intensifying conflict between nuclear powers and non-nuclear countries.

    Preparatory committee meetings are held to sort out tasks to be addressed at the review committee convened every five years. The upcoming meeting marks the first time since the March NWC negotiations that the nuclear powers and non-nuclear nations are holding consultations.

    However, both sides remain far apart as U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have declared that their countries are poised to strengthen their respective nuclear armaments. As such, moves toward nuclear arms reductions could be further deadlocked depending on U.S. and Russian responses.

    It has heretofore been customary for Japan to send a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official to preparatory committee meetings. This time, however, the foreign minister will express Japan's determination to promote realistic nuclear arms reductions involving the nuclear powers in hopes that Tokyo will bridge a gap between nuclear haves and have-nots.

    Mitsuru Kitano, Japanese ambassador to the International Organizations in Vienna, underscored the need for Japan to be represented by the foreign minister at the preparatory meeting in order to urge the international community to help aim for nuclear disarmament.

    "The NPT is the foundation for nuclear arms reductions and the non-proliferation system. As the international community is split over nuclear disarmament, Japan needs to ask the international community for cooperation toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons, which Japan is striving for," Kitano said in an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

    At the preparatory committee meeting that lasts until May 12, attendees will discuss denuclearization of the Middle East, over which participants in the 2015 review committee meeting were split, the international community's response to North Korea that has carried out repeated nuclear tests and missile launches, in addition to nuclear arms reductions.

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