• Kyodo

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Japan and the United States will issue a joint statement calling for their missile-defense initiative to be accelerated after next month’s ministerial security talks in Washington, it was learned Saturday.

In the joint statement, the two countries will also urge North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program “in a prompt and verifiable manner,” the Japanese and U.S. government sources said.

In addition to the issues of missile defense and North Korea, Japan and the U.S. plan to discuss possible logistic support by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the event of a U.S. attack on Iraq.

They will also address measures to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction and issues concerning U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture, the sources said.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will attend the meeting, to be held at the U.S. State Department on Dec. 16.

It will be the first “two-plus-two” meeting between the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries since U.S. President George W. Bush took office in January 2001. The last meeting took place in September 2000.

Japan and the U.S. are currently conducting a joint study on a system to protect Japanese and U.S. forces stationed in the region from ballistic missile attacks.

The U.S. is hoping Japan will make it clear that it is ready to move beyond the current research stage to the development of a missile defense system.

Japan may agree on the need to accelerate the missile defense initiative, but it is uncertain whether it will be able to commit to advancing to the development phase. There has been no consensus in the government and ruling coalition on the issue, a Japanese source said.

The talks are unlikely to touch on how to deal with former U.S. Army Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins if he visits Japan to meet with his wife, Hitomi Soga, according to the sources.

Jenkins is listed by the U.S. military as having deserted to North Korea in 1965 while stationed close to the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea. In Pyongyang, he married Soga, one of five Japanese abducted by North Korea in 1978 who are currently visiting Japan.

Japan has asked the U.S. to pardon Jenkins so he and Soga, along with their two daughters now in North Korea, can settle in Japan. The U.S. maintains that it would seek to court-martial Jenkins if he visits Japan.

The two countries will hold a working-level meeting Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 in Washington to prepare for the ministerial security talks, the sources said.

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