U.S., Japan Expand Missile-Defense Plan

The Associated Press
Friday, June 23, 2006; 7:04 AM

TOKYO -- Japan and the United States agreed Friday to expand their cooperation on a ballistic missile defense shield, moving to protect themselves amid concerns that North Korea could test-fire a long-range missile.

The agreement, signed by Foreign Minister Taro Aso and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer, commits the two countries to jointly produce interceptor missiles, Japan's Foreign Ministry said.

Officials said the agreement had been previously negotiated and was not triggered by fears that North Korea is preparing to test a missile.

But the timing of the announcement underscored the determined cooperation between the United States and its top Asian ally to protect themselves against the threat of Pyongyang's missile program.

North Korea's 1998 test-firing of a missile over northern Japan was Tokyo's primary impetus for signing on to the idea of joint missile defense.

The agreement allows the transfer of ballistic missile defense technology from Japan to the United States, a touchy issue in Japan, which has long adhered to a self-imposed ban on arms exports in line with its pacifist constitution.

The announcement came hours after Japanese officials said a high-resolution radar that can detect incoming missiles had been deployed at a base in northern Japan.

The so-called X-Band radar was transferred from the U.S. military's Misawa Air Base in Misawa to the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force's Shariki base in Tsugaru, about 360 miles northeast of Tokyo, Japan's Defense Agency said.

The radar is expected to begin monitoring airspace this summer for ballistic missiles, a Defense Agency said on condition of anonymity citing policy. The radar is solely to monitor missiles and not fitted with a missile interceptor, she said.

Foreign Minister official Saori Nagahara said Japan and the U.S. have not decided when to begin production of interceptor missiles, but the development phase was expected to take about nine years. The agreement updates a November 1983 pact on arms transfers and a December 2004 missile defense cooperation arrangement.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok, meanwhile, warned the North that firing a missile would not force the United States to make concessions.

The North has offered to talk to Washington about its missile concerns, in line with its long-held desire for direct discussions with the U.S. The Bush administration has rejected the offer and insists it will only meet with the North in six-nation talks over the communist country's nuclear program.

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