6 hours ago TOKYO (AFP) — The United States and Japan are planning their first official talks on the US 'nuclear umbrella' as early as this month, amid rising fears about stability in Northeast Asia, a newspaper reported.The issue is sensitive in Japan, which campaigns for a nuclear-weapons-free world but relies on the United States for deterrence as fears build over North Korea's atomic programme and China's continued defence stockpiling. The Yomiuri Shimbun daily, citing unnamed Japanese sources, said senior officials would meet soon in Washington to discuss when and how US nuclear arms could be used in the event of a crisis affecting Japan. The two nations will also discuss US President Barack Obama's proposed large-scale nuclear arms reductions, the newspaper said. Both countries will send deputy directors and vice ministers from their ministries and departments in charge of defence and foreign affairs. Washington and Tokyo have long refrained from officially discussing the US 'nuclear umbrella' protecting Japan -- a sensitive issue in Japan, the only nation to have suffered an atomic attack. But a Japanese foreign ministry official handling issues related to the bilateral alliance told AFP: "We've been constantly discussing a range of issues including the nuclear umbrella at various levels. "We can't comment on specific meetings or agendas because of the nature of the issue," added the official, who asked not to be named. Japan -- which suffered US atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II -- maintains an official policy of not possessing or producing nuclear weapons, and not allowing them on its territory. However, retired government officials and declassified US documents say Japan has long agreed to allow nuclear-armed US warships to pass through its waters and dock in its ports -- a claim the government vehemently denies. The Washington talks would come after the United States has publicly reassured both Japan and South Korea that it remains committed to ensuring their security in the face of rising tensions with North Korea. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently voiced fears that Pyongyang's nuclear programme could trigger "an arms race in Northeast Asia." Some conservative Japanese politicians have urged the government to build up military attack capabilities, now banned under the country's pacifist constitution, to enable pre-emptive strikes to counter North Korea's threat. Japan has also expressed concern in the past over China's double-digit increase in military spending over the past two decades. AFP: Japan, US to hold talks on 'nuclear umbrella'