, HIROSHIMA, Aug 6 – Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged Thursday his country would lead efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, but also admitted he found the goal "unimaginable."
Speaking on the 64th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Aso stressed that Japan now relies on its ally the United States for nuclear deterrence in the face of the threat posed by nearby North Korea.
Aso told the 50,000 people at the ceremony that Japan would lead global efforts toward "abolishing nuclear weapons and realising eternal peace."
However, speaking to reporters about two hours later, Aso said that he believed a nuclear-free world would only be possible "if nuclear weapons disappeared all at once from the world."
"It might be possible… if they were abolished suddenly, on one day in one go," Aso said. "But under normal circumstances it is unimaginable."
He added: "This world is not one in which, if someone unilaterally abandons them, others will also simply abandon them."
The conservative premier, who faces elections on August 30, trails his main opposition party rival in opinion polls, in part because of a series of gaffes and policy flip-flops since he took office in September.
The mayor of Hiroshima, where 140,000 people died from the atomic blast, Tadatoshi Akiba, renewed his call for the abolition of what he said are 24,000 remaining nuclear warheads worldwide over the next decade.
Akiba praised US President Barack Obama for saying in Prague this year that the United States, as the only country to have ever used an atomic weapon, has "a moral responsibility" to work toward their eventual abolition.