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TOKYO — Stronger ties between Japan and the United States, forged in recent years through the security alliance and military transformation talks, enabled a more coordinated reaction to North Korea’s missile test this month, U.S. Ambassador to Japan J. Thomas Schieffer said Friday.

That cooperation stands in contrast to the reaction to the Taepodong missile launch in 1998, when both countries had differing beliefs about what happened and how to respond, Schieffer said.

“This time the North Korean missile launches did not strain our alliance; it strengthened it,” he said. “The U.S. and Japan worked together to get international support. Think of how much more difficult it would have been had the U.S. and Japan not been working so well together.”

A coordinated response, Schieffer said, is one example of the benefit and success of the security alliance that has developed in the past several years. He credited improved ties to the strong relationship between former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President Bush and the understanding that developed since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the rise of global terrorism.

He added that transformation talks last year to reposition U.S. military forces in Japan — to include moving some 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam — further cemented the bilateral ties.

Schieffer emphasized areas of cooperation he hopes can continue as well, including bilateral training exercises and information sharing. He cautioned, however, that both countries need to improve the protection of classified documents by curbing leaks to media.

Other areas that will improve the alliance remain to be addressed, Schieffer said. He highlighted the question of whether Japanese naval ships will be permitted to shoot down enemy missiles before it is determined that Japan is the target, since mutual defense agreements require the U.S. to protect Japan but not the opposite.

“This issue must be addressed,” he said. “The answer will be absolutely critical to the function and future of our alliance.”

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