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The government is set to allow exports to third countries of a new type of ship-based missile interceptor being jointly developed by Tokyo and Washington, sources close to Japan-U.S. relations said Saturday.

Europe is considered a likely destination for the Standard Missile-3 Block 2A missile, an advanced version of the SM-3 series, if it is allowed to be shipped to third countries in a relaxation of Japan’s decades-long ban on arms exports, the sources said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Tokyo to consider exporting SM-3 Block 2A missiles in a meeting with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa last October. The move followed President Barack Obama’s September announcement that Washington was abandoning plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

The United States subsequently decided to base its missile defense strategy around SM-3 interceptors, notably for responding to threats from Iranian missiles. SM-3 interceptors are designed to be launched from warships equipped with the sophisticated Aegis air defense system against intermediate ballistic missiles.

The United States recently notified Japan of its plans to begin shipping SM-3 Block 2A missiles in 2018 and asked Tokyo to start preparing soon to strike export deals with third countries. Washington’s request also concerns the export of advanced versions of the new interceptors, which can also be deployed on the ground, according to the sources.

The U.S. wants Japan to respond by the end of the year — a demand that a senior Defense Ministry official said is hard to refuse as Tokyo wishes to continue the joint missile development project.

Japan has a policy of not exporting weapons or arms technology in principle. The policy dates back to 1967, when Eisaku Sato, the prime minister at the time, declared a ban on weapons exports to communist states, countries to which the United Nations bans such exports to and parties to international conflicts.

But Japan excluded exports of arms technology to the United States, with which it has a bilateral security pact, from the ban in 1983.

When Tokyo signed an agreement with Washington in 2005 for bilateral cooperation on a ballistic missile defense system, U.S.-bound exports of missile interceptors to be deployed by the two countries were also exempted from the ban on arms exports.

In exporting SM-3 Block 2A missiles to third countries, the government plans to follow the policy adopted when it reached the accord with the United States, under which exceptions to the export ban are acceptable from a national security standpoint on the premise that the weapons should be strictly controlled.

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