• Kyodo

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The Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyer Kirishima cut short its itinerary to return home from U.S.-led international naval exercises off Hawaii, so it can be nearby if Pyongyang test-launches an ICBM, sources said Wednesday.

The sources attributed the abrupt return to the need for the advanced destroyer to keep watch on North Korea, which appears to be preparing to launch a Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile.

The 7,250-ton Kirishima’s deployment is aimed at sending a message to Pyongyang, as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and U.S. President George W. Bush were to hold talks Thursday at the White House and urge North Korea to stop the launch.

The destroyer headed home Wednesday from Pearl Harbor, where it was to take part in the monthlong RIMPAC-2006 drills that started Monday and run through July 28.

The MSDF has already deployed its other Aegis destroyers in nearby waters to watch for a possible North Korean missile launch. They will likely be joined by the Kirishima, which can detect and track ballistic missiles.

The U.S. Navy has also dispatched two Aegis vessels from its base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, to monitor Pyongyang’s moves.

The Kirishima participated last week in the eighth U.S. intercept test of a sea-based missile defense system, becoming the first Japanese Aegis vessel to take part in an attempt to shoot down a ballistic missile with a Standard Missile-3 interceptor.

In the successful test off Hawaii, the Kirishima performed long-range surveillance and tracking exercises together with the U.S. Navy’s Aegis destroyer. The Kirishima then stayed in Hawaii to join RIMPAC, which involves warships from Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, South Korea and the U.S.

The MSDF dispatched the Kirishima, three other vessels, a P3-C patrol plane and other equipment, with a total of some 1,200 service members, to the drills.

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