TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States sealed a deal on defense secrets on Friday, in a show of solidarity days after a powerful opposition leader publicly rebuffed a U.S. request for continued support for its Afghan operations.
A smiling Foreign Minister Taro Aso greeted U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer at the ministry in Tokyo, before they signed and exchanged copies of an agreement Japanese officials said would facilitate the exchange of classified information.
The two countries are cooperating on research and development for a joint ballistic missile defense shield that has begun to take shape in and around Japan, in a move inspired by Tokyo’s fears over North Korea’s missile tests.
The United States has been pushing since 2005 for Japan to sign a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which lays down rules about the treatment of confidential defense information shared between the two countries.
“This is a great day for Japan, the U.S. and me personally,” Schieffer told Aso after the signing, adding that the deal with Tokyo had been proposed 20 years ago and was Washington’s 65th such agreement with another country.
The long delay in agreeing the confidentiality deal may have been partly due to pacifist Japan’s misgivings about allowing the military too much power, a defense Agency official said earlier this year.
A scandal had erupted when Japanese naval officers were found to have leaked classified information about the Aegis radar system used on U.S. and Japanese missile-defense capable ships and Japan has pledged to improve its handling of defense data.
Two days ago, Schieffer visited Japan’s main opposition leader, Ichiro Ozawa, to pitch the case for Tokyo to extend an Indian Ocean refueling mission that backs up U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, but was rebuffed in a meeting held in front of the media.
Ozawa’s Democratic Party and its allies beat the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and to win an upper house majority in a July 29 election. The opposition could use its new power to delay the passing of a bill aimed at extending the mission, whose mandate expires in November.