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US, Japan engage in anti-nuclear talks amid Japan defense debate

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The United States is holding three-day talks with Japanese officials on nuclear deterrence, in the midst of a Japanese public debate over how far Japan should go to defend the U.S. from ballistic missiles.

Participants in the Extended Deterrence Dialogue will discuss nuclear security in the Asia-Pacific region and tour nuclear-related sites at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from June 10-12, according to a State Department statement.

The annual dialogue first began in 2010.

Washington has been busy drawing its two closest Asian security allies, Japan and South Korea, into a tighter trilateral arrangement aimed at curtailing North Korea's nuclear threat.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier this month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts on the sidelines of the multinational summit to discuss nuclear security.

The trio issued a joint statement condemning North Korean nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches as "serious threats that undermine not only the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula but also those of Northeast Asia and around the world."

The three governments are also pursuing a trilateral memorandum of understanding on intelligence sharing, officials said privately in Singapore.

However, the memo is expected to cover only intelligence on North Korea's nuclear program.

Overall relations between South Korea and Japan have soured in recent years because of a dispute over an island territory and the perception that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is inadequately sorry for its actions before and during WWII.

Meanwhile, Abe is attempting to push through Japanese legal reforms that would allow, among other things, the Japan Self-Defense Forces to shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles headed for the United States.

In a June Yomiuri Shimbun poll, 44 percent of respondents favored authorizing Japan to intercept such missiles, while 43 percent opposed it. The remainder were unsure or did not know.

Japan's current interpretation of its pacifist constitution prevents it from undertaking collective self-defense with an ally.

Abe is attempting to reinterpret the constitution through a cabinet resolution. Some think doing so would draw Japan into wars that do not directly threaten the country, while Abe's supporters say it is necessary to maintain its U.S. alliance.

The government's method of avoiding the more arduous constitutional amendment process has also drawn criticism from opposition lawmakers.

slavin.erik@stripes.com
Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

 

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