• Kyodo

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The United States plans to study the feasibility of setting up a standing secretariat jointly with Japan to discuss matters pertaining to bilateral security arrangements, according to U.S. and Japanese sources.

Observers said the plan is another indication of the importance President George W. Bush places on the alliance between the two countries.

The move could spark debate in Japan, however, as the new body could touch upon the exercising of the right to collective defense, which the Japanese government maintains is banned by the Constitution.

The proposed secretariat, chiefly comprising officials from the Pentagon and Japan’s Defense Agency and Self-Defense Forces, will probably be established in Tokyo, they said.

U.S. officials stationed in Japan have carried out such tasks up to now for the most part. The U.S., however, is considering dispatching officials directly from the Pentagon and the Pacific Command to the proposed body.

Matters listed as possible agenda items are strategic dialogue based on sharing of defense information and analysis, as well as arrangements of the two countries’ defense policies and cooperation in U.N. peacekeeping operations, the sources said.

A U.S. government official said a secretariat where defense officials from both counties can regularly hold talks and make arrangements is needed to reinforce the U.S.-Japan alliance. At present, bilateral dialogue on defense and security issues is held on a regular basis at various levels, but there is no standing entity for such discussions.

The U.S. has already made approaches on the matter to Japan’s Defense Agency, the sources said.

A source at Japan’s Foreign Ministry, however, expressed reservations about the plan as it goes against Japan’s policy of the ministry having exclusive control over diplomacy.

The U.S. plans to shy away from calling the body a joint military headquarters because that would imply a unified command system, which could arouse concerns in Japan over the issue of collective defense, the sources said.

In the event the proposal does get off the ground, the two sides will also have to iron out such issues as how to harmonize the standing secretariat’s role with those of existing bilateral security mechanisms, observers said.

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