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Yasuhiro Nakasone, former prime minister, is Japan's ranking elder statesman. He remains a major influence in Japanese politics as head of one of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's most powerful factions. He spoke at his faction headquarters in Tokyo with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Oct. 21.

NATHAN GARDELS: Former U.S. defense chief William Perry believes North Korea will have enough reprocessed plutonium by the end of this year to make six nuclear bombs and, if it restarts its Yongbyon reactor complex, could make five to ten a year. He worries a bomb will be sold to terrorists to use against the United States or be used in a missile against Japan. Do you share this assessment?

YASUHIRO NAKASONE: Yes, what has been a latent threat for years has now become realized. Its aim is intimidation of its neighbors in order to get economic help to survive.

GARDELS: At the APEC meeting in Bangkok, U.S. President George Bush told Asian leaders he was willing -- within the framework of the "multiparty" talks that began in Beijing this fall (United States, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea and North Korea) -- to offer some kind of "non-aggression" pledge to North Korea if it would disarm.

Though North Korea has rejected Bush's proposal as "laughable," that is considered a negotiating tactic.

Can we trust any such an agreement with Kim Jong Il? After all, he broke his side of the deal with the United States before and reactivated the nuclear program he promised to freeze.

NAKASONE: A promise to five powers -- especially since China is involved-- is more likely to be kept than a promise to one. At the end of the day, the North Koreans will come around and disarm.

GARDELS: Is "at the end of the day" coming soon?

NAKASONE: I believe they will agree to disarm within two years. Their economy is so weak they can't hold out much longer.

GARDELS: North Korea demanded recently that Japan no longer be part of the multiparty talks. What do you make of that?

NAKASONE: Japan is part of the affected region. It has been part of the talks from the beginning and will remain so. North Korea is acting this way because it doesn't want the issue of abductions to be internationalized. (Last year, North Korea admitted it had abducted Japanese citizens and let some of them visit Japan. Japan is now refusing North Korea's demand to send them back -- editor.)

GARDELS: In the event it doesn't disarm or keep its promise, should Japan build a missile defense system to protect itself?

NAKASONE: Yes. We should be moving forward both on missile defense (MD) and theater missile defense (TMD).

GARDELS: Not long ago the Japanese defense minister said if Japan felt threatened by North Korea's nuclear weapons, it had the right to make a preemptive strike. Do you agree?

NAKASONE: As a matter of standing policy, preemption is not a good idea. But if the threat is proven, then, yes, it is within Japan's right of self-defense to make a preemptive strike.

GARDELS: You have been a giant presence on the Japanese political scene for decades. At 85 do you intend to remain active by running (as head of his LDP faction) again for election (to the Diet)? (As LDP leader, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has asked LDP politicians to retire after 73 to make way for younger leaders--editor.)

NAKASONE: Yes, that is my intention.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/22/03)