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The Defense Agency will maintain a high-level watch over North Korea out of concern Pyongyang’s actions may become more provocative now that the world’s attention is on Iraq.

“North Korea is not directly linked (with the war),” agency chief Shigeru Ishiba said Thursday, “but we have confirmed the need to maintain our vigilance.”

Ishiba’s remarks came after an emergency meeting of agency officials and Self-Defense Forces officers.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force will ensure that one of its four destroyers equipped with the state-of-the-art Aegis air defense system is kept on hand for surveillance activities relating to North Korea, according to an agency official who briefed reporters.

The Aegis-equipped Myoko was deployed in the Sea of Japan on March 7 and is engaging in what the agency describes as a “routine exercise.”

The agency has also mobilized at least one airborne warning and control system aircraft over the Sea of Japan since North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. spy plane earlier this month, the official said.

Regular surveillance activities will be maintained, the agency official added.

These include putting MSDF vessels stationed on Sea of Japan coast bases on 24-hour alert and flying P-3C antisubmarine surveillance planes over the Sea of Japan once a day.

“If a suspicious ship is found, we will let them report immediately to the Japan Coast Guard,” the official said.

The agency added that it may withdraw SDF personnel participating in the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights if it is decided that the situation has become dangerous because of the Iraq war.

Japan joined the operations in 1996.

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