• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to meet with the chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization next month to seek support for a Japanese role in manufacturing the internationally developed F-35 fighter jet, a government source said Monday.

NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen is expected to visit Japan in mid-April and meet with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. Such issues as China’s growing assertiveness, NATO’s security roles in Afghanistan, and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea will likely be on the agenda, the source said.

Rasmussen, a former prime minister of Denmark, will become the first head of the 28-member military alliance to visit Japan since December 2007.

Tokyo announced earlier this month it would allow Japanese manufacturers to provide components for the advanced stealth jet to spur industrial growth — a decision that led the government, despite criticism, to exempt the F-35 project from its long-standing ban on arms exports.

The fighter jet is being jointly developed by nine countries — eight NATO members and Australia. Japan plans to purchase 42 of the next-generation fighters to make the F-35 the mainstay jet of the Air Self-Defense Force.

Abe is likely to brief Rasmussen on Japan’s position and seek a deal.

As fighting continues between NATO troops and insurgents in Afghanistan and foreign forces hand off vital security duties to the Afghans before exiting, it is conceivable that Rasmussen will ask Japan for financial assistance and that Abe will respond positively, the source suggested.

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