SEOUL -- The United States and Japan agreed yesterday to strengthen cooperation on missile defense amid concerns of a possible long-range rocket launch by North Korea.
The accord came as US forces ended five days of Pacific war games, the largest in the region since the Vietnam War. The exercise brought together three aircraft carriers along with 22,000 troops and 280 warplanes off the island of Guam.
In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso and US Ambassador Thomas Schieffer signed documents about cooperation on ballistic missile defense development. Japan's Defense Agency also said a high-resolution radar that can detect a ballistic missile has been deployed in northern Japan.
North Korea has made recent moves that would enable it to launch a long-range missile, US and Asian officials have said. Intelligence reports say fuel tanks have been seen around a missile at North Korea's launch site on its northeastern coast, but officials say it's difficult to determine whether the rocket is actually being fueled.
The North has said it is willing to participate in direct talks with Washington about its missile concerns, but Washington has refused and insists it will meet only in six-nation talks aimed at ridding Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons program.
South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said North Korean activities were consistent with a missile launch and pressed the North to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is seeking to visit China next week to discuss the missile issue, but plans have not been confirmed.
US officials have warned North Korea that a missile launch could have serious repercussions.
``We still hope that they recognize that launching that missile would only isolate them further, " US Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow said yesterday in Seoul.