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Hard for Japan to hit North Korea missile debris: minister
Tue Mar 24, 2009 2:06am EDT
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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan would find it difficult to intercept debris from a rocket that North Korea has vowed to fire next month, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, noting that the country's missile defense system has never been tested in action.
North Korea has said it will launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8, presenting a challenge to Washington and its allies in Asia who see the plan as a disguised long-range missile test.
The rocket is expected to drop a booster stage in the Sea of Japan and then pass over the north of the country.
A senior Japanese government source said late on Monday that Japan would be unable to intercept the rocket, media reported.
"You cannot shoot down a pistol bullet with a pistol," Kyodo news agency quoted the source as saying.
Asked about the remark, Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said it was true that Japan's missile defense had yet to be tested in action.
"It's a fact that it is difficult. Our country has not done this before. We don't know how or where it will fly," Nakasone told reporters. "We will call on them (North Korea) and work as hard as possible ... so that such a thing won't happen."
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada sought to allay public concerns, telling separate news conferences the government was doing its best to be prepared.
But defense expert Tetsuo Maeda echoed Nakasone's view.
"If the rocket is on its planned course and heading to Japan in an extreme case, the missile defense system on Aegis-equipped destroyers and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 will be effective to some extent," Maeda said.
"But if it is a Taepodong missile that flies way over Japan and debris are free-falling from stages of the rocket in different sizes, it is impossible to detect their course and it is very difficult to shoot them down," he added.
DIPLOMATS TO MEET
Diplomats from Japan, South Korea and the United States involved in stalled multilateral talks to end North Korea's nuclear programs will meet on Friday in Washington to discuss Pyongyang's planned rocket launch, Kyodo said.
Japan's cabinet is expected to clear the way by the end of March for the deployment of PAC-3 interceptors, a step required because of limits on the military in the pacifist constitution.
Japan may also deploy two high-tech Aegis-equipped destroyers carrying sea-based Standard Missile-3 interceptors, one to the Sea of Japan and the other to the Pacific Ocean, media have said.
The U.S. Navy's guided missile destroyer USS Stethem, which is based in Yokosuka near Tokyo, entered port in Aomori, northern Japan, on Monday on what the Navy said was a "goodwill port visit." Continued...
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