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Japan has decided to develop components for interceptor missiles with the U.S. amid pressure from Washington to move forward from joint technological research on a missile defense system to the development stage, government sources said Sunday.

Given that it will require exports of parts to the United States, the government will also have to pursue a politically sensitive review of the three-principle ban on weapons exports, the sources said.

The government will make its final decision at Cabinet and Security Council meetings this fiscal year.

Attention will shift to how the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will justify the need to develop the missile shield at the cost of watering down the export ban and spending huge amounts of money on the prolonged research, including some failures — and deciding recently to spend an estimated 1 trillion yen to purchase a U.S.-made defense system.

The sources said the decision chiefly stems from strong pressure by the U.S. and a report submitted earlier this month by Koizumi’s key advisory Council on Security and Defense Capabilities proposing to review the export ban with an eye on the joint parts development.

The three principles were initially set in 1967 to ban exports of weapons to the communist bloc, nations under U.N. embargo, and countries involved in, or on the verge of being involved in, conflicts.

The government effectively banned exports to all countries in 1976 by saying Japan will also refrain from exports to countries not subject to the three principles. But it decided in 1983 to allow technological transfers to the U.S.

Japan and the U.S. agreed in a so-called two-plus-two meeting of defense and foreign ministers in September 1998 to begin joint technological research on a missile defense system.

The two nations began the research program in 1999 for a system to launch interceptors from Aegis-equipped warships. Japan has spent 15.6 billion yen up to fiscal 2003.

Meanwhile, the government decided last December to purchase from the U.S. and deploy a missile defense system due mainly to threats from North Korea.

The joint research covers four areas — infrared sensors for identifying and tracking missiles, high-performance shields to protect interceptor warheads from air-attrition heat, second-rocket propulsion units, and kinetic warheads for destroying warheads of incoming ballistic missiles.

The government yet to reveal what has been successful and how funds have been spent in the prolonged joint research activities.

Together with such explanations, it will have to specify which of the four areas will be advanced to the development stage.

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