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Japan Prepares Defenses Against North Korea Rocket Launch

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Japan says it is preparing its missile defense systems to shoot down any North Korean rocket that threatens Japanese territory.

Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka, spoke Friday in Tokyo, as North Korea moves forward with plans to launch a missile next month that it says will put a satellite in orbit. The United States, South Korea and a host of East Asian nations have described the launch as a pretext by the nuclear-armed North for long-range missile testing banned under United Nations’ sanctions.

Tanaka told reporters he is ordering the Japanese armed forces to prepare for the deployment of PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles and anti-missile equipped Aegis destroyers to target any North Korean rocket that strays into Japanese territory.

Pyongyang says it will put an earth observation satellite into polar orbit during a four-day window beginning April 12. Officials said earlier this month that the launch is designed to commemorate the 100th birthday of North Korea’s late founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

Japan’s military preparations come as U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders prepare to meet Monday in Seoul for a summit officially focused on nuclear terrorism.

South Korean and Japanese diplomats met this week in Seoul to discuss their responses to the upcoming launch. Japanese envoy Shinsuke Sugiyama said the duo is in ongoing contact with other nations who are seeking to pressure Pyongyang to end its controversial nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s launch announcement came just weeks after the United States and the North jointly announced Pyongyang’s agreement to suspend long-range ballistic missile launches, nuclear testing and related activities. Additionally, the North said it would allow international inspectors back into the country to verify the moratorium. In response, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington was preparing to provide the North with 240,000 metric tons of badly needed emergency food supplies.

The food deliveries have not yet begun, and days after the March 16 launch announcement, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the launch would make implementation of the aid deal “very difficult.” She said the launch runs counter to the moratorium deal and calls into question whether North Korea’s word can be trusted.

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