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Japan expressed “understanding” Tuesday toward the controversial new defense strategy announced last week by U.S. President George W. Bush.

The strategy involves the deployment of an as-yet undeveloped super shield against ballistic missiles.

During talks with Richard Armitage, visiting U.S. deputy secretary of state, Deputy Foreign Minister Ryozo Kato said Japan understands the U.S. plan as a means of guarding against the threat of ballistic missile attack, according to a ministry official.

“Japan and the United States share the view that ballistic missile proliferation is a serious threat to world security,” Kato was quoted as saying.

Armitage, who is on an Asian tour to explain Bush’s new defense plan, said he came to “consult with” Japan and other allies over the new missile defense framework and take into account their views in developing the plan.

He stressed that the U.S. does not intend to simply “inform” its allies of decisions that have already been made, the official said.

In a speech at the National Defense University on May 1, Bush stated that deploying a missile defense system is now necessary as the principals of mutual deterrence that held sway during the Cold War are no longer adequate to defend the U.S. and its allies.

The president also said Washington may seek a revision of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

China and Russia have warned they will take countermeasures if Washington deploys an antimissile system, and some U.S. allies in Europe are concerned the plan may spark a global arms race.

While Kato expressed understanding of the plan, he stopped short of evaluating the proposal, the officials said.

Japan made no specific reference to Bush’s indication that the U.S. will withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, the official said. Signed by the former Soviet Union and the U.S., the treaty prohibits large-scale missile defense.

Kato also welcomed Bush’s remarks that the U.S. will cut its nuclear warheads substantially and consult with Russia, China and its allies over its missile defense theory.

Shingo Shuto, director general of Defense Policy Bureau of the Defense Agency, and other senior officials were also present at the meeting.

Japan and the United States confirmed that the two countries will continue their joint research on a Theater Missile Defense plan, a theoretical missile defense shield for U.S. allies in East Asia.

Kato said the bilateral research on TMD is an important part of the agenda regarding Japan’s defense and for security in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Japan hopes to continue work on joint research,” he was quoted as telling Armitage.

Armitage replied that the U.S. has no plans to change the current framework on TMD joint research, even under the new defense plan.

Meanwhile, Armitage also met with Shigeo Uetake and Seiken Sugiura, both senior vice foreign ministers, and reaffirmed that the U.S. considers Japan its most important ally in the Asia-Pacific region.

Armitage also told the vice ministers that Bush hopes to visit Japan in October before attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Shanghai.

“The United States intends to have good relations with China, but it will not do so by sacrificing relations with Japan,” Armitage was quoted as saying.

Sugiura said he supports a U.S. bipartisan report compiled by Armitage and other Asian policy experts in the fall that urges Japan to play a greater security role as an equal partner.

He said he hopes the report’s recommendations will be reflected in the new U.S. administration’s policy toward Japan. Armitage agreed with Sugiura, the official said.

Armitage will visit South Korea on Wednesday and Thursday and India on Friday and Saturday.

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