Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 5 News List

US envoy asks if Japan would use force to defend against North Korean missiles

AP , TOKYO

The US ambassador yesterday urged Japan to decide whether it would shoot down a North Korean missile heading to the US and called for cooperation in inspecting North Korean cargo to prevent proliferation of weapons technology.

The US and Japan are developing a joint missile defense system to counter the threat posed by North Korea.

But Japan's pacifist Constitution, which bans the use of force to solve international conflicts, means it's not clear how far Japan can contribute to the defense program -- for example, by shooting down a North Korean missile that might not necessarily be heading to Japan.

"The United States would like an answer to whether [Japan] would shoot down that missile," US Ambassador Thomas Schieffer told reporters yesterday.

"Right now, America has the obligation to defend Japan, but Japan doesn't have the obligation to defend America," Schieffer said, referring to the 1960 US-Japan security alliance that put Tokyo securely under the US defense umbrella.

"Japan's answer will be absolutely critical to the future of the alliance," he said.

Schieffer also urged nations to cooperate in implementing a UN Security Council resolution passed after Pyongyang's nuclear weapons test on Oct. 9, which calls for inspections of all cargo to and from North Korea to prevent any trafficking in nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.

There has been disagreement between nations on how far these checks should go, with China balking at the prospect of intervening North Korean ships -- saying that could provoke a battle in the high seas.

"If there are containers coming out of North Korea, we'd like to have those containers inspected, whether in Hong Kong or Japan," Schieffer said.

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