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US, Japan Hold Talks on Missile Defense System - 2003-06-03


U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has held talks in Tokyo on a possible Japanese missile defense system to counter threats from North Korea. The meeting comes as the Pentagon's number two official wraps up a trip to brief Asian allies on a planned re-alignment of U.S. forces in the region.

Japan appeared one step closer Tuesday to deploying a U.S.-made missile defense system in wake of threats from communist North Korea.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told reporters in Tokyo Tuesday, Japan seems more ready than ever to invest in the move. He announced that Lt. General Ron Kadish - the head of the ballistic missile defense office - would travel to Japan later this month for technical talks. "We would certainly welcome the participation of Japan in missile defense -- if they judge that it is helpful for Japan's security because we think that missile defense is a very important area for the future and having Japan's technology and Japan's resources apply to the challenge of protecting people from missile attack," says Mr. Wolfowitz.

Japanese media report the country aims to deploy a system as early as 2006.

Attempts by Japanese hawks in the past to discuss missile defense have been opposed on the grounds it would violate the country's pacifist constitution. But political analysts say support has grown for deploying such a system as worries about North Korea's nuclear ambitions increase.

Mr. Wolfowitz says concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program will not delay an American force re-alignment in Asia - which will strengthen U.S. posture during the crisis. "We think it is very important that we update our force posture from where it was 10 years ago to take advantage of those capabilities so that we can counter a North Korean attack more quickly and more effectively and strengthen deterrence," he says.

Mr. Wolfowitz says the United States wants to better position its forces to utilize modern types of weapons systems successfully used in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Without going into great detail, the deputy secretary says there are no plans to move tens of thousands of U.S. marines off Okinawa, but force reduction could take place along the Korean border.

In Seoul Monday, Mr. Wolfowitz suggested some troops at the heavily militarized border could be moved - but insisted that this will only strengthen defense.

South Korean critics worry that moving American soldiers out of North Korean artillery range would make it easier for a pre-emptive U.S. strike on North Korea - while leaving the south vulnerable to massive retaliation.

North Korea's possible nuclear threat emerged in October and international diplomacy has so far failed to convince Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions and stop violating non-proliferation agreements it has signed.

On Monday, U.S. congressmen visiting Pyongyang said North Korea confirmed it had already built nuclear weapons and intends to produce more.