Cheney, Japan affirm collaboration on missile defense, U.S. troop realignment

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TOKYO (AP)

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and a top Japanese official reiterated their countries’ intentions Wednesday to collaborate closely on missile defense and the realignment of U.S. troops stationed in Japan.

The agreement came during a breakfast meeting between Cheney and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, who also concurred in praising the recent six-nation agreement on North Korea’s nuclear program as an important step forward, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Japan and its main ally, the United States, are seeking to closely coordinate their stance on North Korea, which has rattled the region with its nuclear ambitions _ and its first atomic bomb test in October _ but earlier this month agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor in exchange for energy aid and other incentives.

Cheney’s brief visit _ he arrived Tuesday and was to depart early Thursday _ is a gesture of appreciation for Japan, which has been one of Washington’s most valuable allies in its global war on terror, sending troops to Iraq and deploying logistical help for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Cheney was to meet later Wednesday with Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, dine with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and talk with Foreign Minister Taro Aso.

He also was to give a speech to U.S. troops aboard the Kitty Hawk before flying on to Australia and the tiny U.S. island of Guam.

The U.S. has about 50,000 troops stationed throughout the country under a mutual security pact that dates back to the 1960s. Tokyo and Washington have been reworking that alliance to make the presence more effective and “interoperative.” They are also developing a joint missile defense shield.

The U.S. recently deployed state-of-the-art Patriot missiles on the southern island of Okinawa, while Japan has been increasing its own missile defense capabilities around its cities.

The two forces are likely to work closer together in the years to come, with Japan taking on a more significant role in its own defense and in international peacekeeping operations.