In a move to accelerate Japan’s introduction of a missile defense system, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz announced Tuesday that Washington will soon send its top missile commander to Tokyo.

“We will certainly welcome the participation of Japan” in a missile defense project, the Pentagon’s No. 2 official told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Wolfowitz said the kind of system to adopt and deployment details are matters for Japan to decide.

He said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, chief of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, will visit Japan this month to discuss the “technical aspects” of missile shield systems.

During their summit May 23 in the U.S., Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush agreed to step up the pace of their missile defense cooperation.

Japan and the United States have been conducting joint research since 1999 on the key components of an interceptor missile that will be used as part of a sea-based missile defense system.

Japan has yet to decide whether to move on to the next stage of missile development.

In December, Washington unveiled its “initial stage” missile shield deployment scheme. This includes a plan to deploy, by 2005, 20 ground-based interceptor missiles designed to counter intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as several sea- and ground-based interceptor missiles to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.

In a meeting with Wolfowitz on Monday evening, Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba called on the U.S. to provide Japan with “as much information as possible” on U.S. missile defense projects.

Japan is reportedly considering buying U.S.-developed missile systems regardless of the course of the bilateral research.

Commenting on earlier reports that the U.S. is considering transferring most of its marines based in Okinawa, Wolfowitz reiterated that Washington has no such plans. He added, however, that “how to manage the deployment on Okinawa and to minimize” the burden on the people of Okinawa are high on the agenda for talks between Japan and the U.S.

Wolfowitz met with senior members of the ruling coalition later in the day to discuss reconstruction of Iraq. He expressed hope Japan will provide logistic support — including use of facilities as well as communications and transportation services — in noncombatant areas.

The remark comes as the Japanese government is wavering over whether to draw up a bill to allow the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces units to Iraq.

“I came here to ask for the help (in rebuilding Iraq) of the three secretaries general of the coalition,” Wolfowitz was quoted as saying by LDP Secretary General Taku Yamasaki.

In a separate meeting on North Korean issues, Wolfowitz and Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe agreed to use a combination of “dialogue and pressure” in dealing with Pyongyang, as confirmed at the recent Koizumi-Bush summit, Japanese officials said.

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