Tokyo to push for stronger missile defenses in ‘two-plus-two’ talks with U.S.

Kyodo

Japan plans to propose putting priority on bolstering missile defense systems during its security dialogue with the United States late next month, a government source said Saturday.

The two countries’ foreign and defense ministers may discuss how to divide roles, including whether to have U.S. capabilities in place to destroy an enemy military base before a ballistic missile launch, according to the source.

In the first “two-plus-two” security talks held by the countries since U.S. President Donald Trump took office in January, Japan hopes to reaffirm that Tokyo and Washington are on the same page about their sense of urgency in dealing with the threat posed by North Korea.

On March 6, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles, three of which fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan. The missiles were viewed as having increased accuracy, based on how closely they flew.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump agreed the following day that the North’s test-firing of ballistic missiles was a “clear challenge” to the international community.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 ballistic missile tests in 2016, and its leader Kim Jong Un claimed in a New Year’s address that the country was ready to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.

As part of the bolstered ballistic missile defense, the Japanese government is considering additionally deploying an Aegis-equipped vessel that has the Standard Missile-3 interceptor system.

It is also eyeing introduction of the U.S. military’s latest missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, and the land-based Aegis Ashore defense system.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis are attending the dialogue, expected to be held in the United States.

The two-plus-two talk is set to follow Trump’s two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida early next month.

The two countries have held a string of meetings in recent months, with the U.S. urging China to do all it can to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.