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LEAD: LDP's Abe voices need for Constitution revision in U.S. speech.

WASHINGTON, April 29 Kyodo

(EDS: ADDS REACTION IN JAPAN IN LAST 6 PARAS)

The secretary general of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Shinzo Abe, said Thursday that Japan needs to revise its war-renouncing Constitution to enable it to exercise the right to collective self-defense for a stronger Japan-U.S. security alliance.

''It has become clear that Japan cannot maintain its national security under the current Constitution,'' Abe said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based conservative think tank.

According to the Japanese government's interpretation, Japan has the right to collective self-defense under international law but cannot exercise it under the pacifist Constitution.

''Such domestic logic cannot be internationally accepted,'' Abe said. ''It is certain that the Japanese government's interpretation has reached a point where it cannot work any more.''

It is necessary to make the Japan-U.S. alliance more sustainable and mutually dependable, he said.

Abe said there had been ''a public tendency to make it a taboo to touch the constitutional revision issue partly because of the trauma of defeat'' in World War II.

But those who hope to keep the Constitution intact lost many seats in last November's general election for the House of Representatives, he said.

There is a growing mood in parliament to discuss the constitutional issue in a constructive way, he said.

Abe hailed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's decision to dispatch Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq as ''historic.''

In a question-and-answer session following the speech, meanwhile, Abe dismissed the argument that Japan may arm itself with nuclear weapons in response to growing threats from North Korea and China.

''The nuclear issue is completely separate from a constitutional revision,'' he said. ''Japan has abandoned nuclear armaments forever.''

Abe's comments caused ripples in both the ruling and opposition camps in Japan on Friday due to the politically sensitive nature of the issue.

Former Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Takeo Hiranuma backed Abe's view, referring to the complexity of interpreting Article 9 of the Constitution, the section defining Japan's pacifist position.

''There are vague points...in Article 9 as some people say it is possible to understand it in 19 different ways,'' Hiranuma told reporters in Tokyo, adding, ''It is only natural Mr. Abe said we should tidy it up.''

But the LDP's coalition partner, the New Komeito party, voiced discontent.

''Many people say the Constitution should not allow the use of the right to collective self-defense ever,'' Takenori Kanzaki, leader of the party backed by lay Buddhist group Soka Gakkai, told reporters in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture.

In a press conference in Fukushima, Fukushima Prefecture, the secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Katsuya Okada, said Abe's remarks mean ''a change in Japan's position to use armed force with the United States in any part of the world. I protest against such a view.''
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:May 3, 2004
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