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The chief of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency urged Japan on Friday to introduce a U.S.-developed missile defense system at an early date.

In a meeting with Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba, U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish was quoted by an agency official as saying Japan has a lot to benefit from introducing a “layered defense” combining the ground-based PAC-3 system and a sea-based missile defense shield.

PAC-3, an updated version of the Patriot system, is designed to shoot down shorter-range missiles shortly before they hit their targets, while the sea-based system to be deployed aboard Aegis-equipped warships aims to intercept missiles before they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

Kadish, the Pentagon’s top missile commander, expressed the hope of continuing to cooperate with Japan on missile defense, noting that Britain agreed in January to allow the U.S. to use its key radar base for a missile defense project, the agency official said.

Ishiba stressed the need to promote public understanding of missile defense, figuring the purchase of such a system would not come as easily as that of “buses and trucks” in terms of costs and procedures, the official said.

Japan and the U.S. have been conducting joint research on a sea-based missile defense system since 1999. However, faced with what some consider an imminent ballistic missile threat from North Korea, Japan has recently been considering purchasing U.S.-developed missile systems regardless of the course of the joint study.

The U.S. plans to deploy by 2005 several PAC-3 systems as well as other ground- and sea-based interceptor missiles.

Diplomat taking leave

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi denied Friday that a diplomat who has been handling issues related to Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea is leaving his post due to pressure from abductee supporters.

Kenji Hiramatsu, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North East Asia Division, is scheduled to take temporary leave.

Kawaguchi was commenting at a news conference on a report that Hiramatsu will become a visiting professor at Harvard University on July 1.

The families of the abductees have been calling for the removal of Hiramatsu and Hitoshi Tanaka, deputy foreign minister, accusing them of being too soft on Pyongyang.

Hiramatsu, who was involved in explaining Japan’s position on the abduction issue to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March, was accused by an abductee support group of making “an insufficient and misleading” presentation to the commission.

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