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TOKYO — Japan’s new government said today the country’s pacifist constitution allows it to own nuclear weapons for self-defense, a news report said.

However, the government also stressed Japan would not stray from its policy of forbidding nuclear weapons on Japanese soil, Kyodo News agency reported, citing a Cabinet Office statement.

The statement comes amid friction within Japan’s political establishment over whether the country should discuss acquiring nuclear arms as a deterrent against North Korea, which tested its first nuclear bomb last month.

Possession of nuclear weapons is a sensitive issue in Japan, which in World War II became the only country to suffer a nuclear attack.

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In response to a question from a lawmaker, the government said that the country’s war-renouncing constitution ”does not necessarily ban the country from possessing any weapons, even nuclear ones, if they are the necessary minimum for self-defense,” Kyodo News agency reported, citing a Cabinet Office statement.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared that Japan would not consider developing its own nuclear weapons. But some high-ranking members of his party, including Foreign Minister Taro Aso, have called for debate on going nuclear following Pyongyang’s test blast.

Opposition lawmakers demanded last week that Aso be dismissed over his comments. The leading opposition Democratic Party of Japan and three other parties reiterated that demand Tuesday, saying in a statement that Aso’s comments were grave and contradicted Japan’s non-nuclear principles.

Japan’s U.S.-drafted postwar constitution bans the use of force in settling international disputes. However, it does not refer to specific weapons.

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