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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged Japan to declare the right to collective defense so its missile defense shield can be used to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles targeted at the United States, according to Japanese and U.S. diplomatic sources.

Gates made the call during talks with Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma late last month in Washington, the sources said.

Exercising the right to collective defense — coming to the aid of an ally under attack — is banned under the government’s current interpretation of the Constitution.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer, who was present at the Gates-Kyuma talks, warned that the alliance could change if the Japanese missile defense shield cannot be used to intercept attacks against the U.S., the sources said.

They also said Gates expressed strong concern over the leak in Japan of highly confidential information on the Aegis system.

The Washington meeting came after a series of security transgressions involving Self-Defense Forces personnel, including a petty officer who gained possession of highly confidential information on the Aegis system that he was not cleared to have.

Aegis-equipped vessels are a core part of the missile defense system.

Neither the U.S. nor Japanese side disclosed the remarks by Gates and Schieffer when they briefed reporters after the talks.

According to the sources, Gates said Japan is an extremely important partner of the United States in missile defense, and as such the two should be able to defend each other.

But Kyuma explained that the missile defense system as it is currently planned is not technologically capable of intercepting ballistic missiles targeting the U.S., and urged Washington to provide further cooperation technically so as to make the request possible, the sources said.

Gates stressed the need to protect information — especially from China — to facilitate sharing data on missile defense, they said.

The U.S. demand on collective defense reflects its strategy to boost its deterrence toward China and also carries Washington’s hope that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will partially allow the use of such a right by revising the Constitution.

However, New Komeito, the coalition partner of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, is opposed to exercising the right.

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