Thomas Countryman, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation under the Barack Obama administration, voiced fears that Japan’s plutonium reserves – enough to make 6,000 bombs – could have a negative impact on Pyongyang and Washington’s denuclearization talks.In an interview published on July 2 in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper, Countryman said that Japan’s plutonium stockpile, which it claims to own for the purpose of its nuclear fuel cycle plan, is becoming an “international security concern.”“There are particular concerns that it could provide a rationale for nuclear weapon ownership to North Korea, which has nuclear nonproliferation as a goal,” he said, adding that the Donald Trump administration “also shares these concerns.”
Countryman suggested the current situation in Japan could end up a stumbling block toward North Korea-US negotiations toward “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula.“When [the US and another countries] try to convince North Korea to give up on its nuclear weapons, it could reply that a neighboring country [Japan] is extracting plutonium,” he said. Countryman insisted that Japan should “reduce its plutonium reserves and withdraw from its nuclear fuel cycle plan.”He also called on Japan to take the lead in “calling on China, North Korea, and South to freeze [spent nuclear fuel] reprocessing activities in East Asia.”“That would increase trust in it as a nuclear nonproliferation leader, and it could play an important role in verification of North Korea’s denuclearization,” he suggested.
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