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US-Japan agree on new defense system to counter North Korea ballistic missiles

Larry Downing / AFP - Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, center, disembarks from his aircraft after arriving at US Yokota air base in Japan on Sunday.

TOKYO -- U.S. and Japanese officials have agreed to put a second defense system in Japan aimed at protecting the country from the threat of a missile attack from North Korea, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.

The exact location of the radar installation has not yet been determined. It will be in the south of the country, U.S. officials said, but not in Okinawa.

Officials stressed that the system would be aimed at protecting the region against the threat from North Korea and is not directed at China.


The U.S. already has similar early warning radar systems on ships in the Asia-Pacific.

This second Japan-based system will allow the U.S. vessels to spread out and cover other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

Much at stake for US as tensions rise in troubled China seas

Panetta said the new installation would also be effective in protecting the U.S. homeland from a North Korea threat. He spoke during a press conference in Tokyo with the Japanese defense minister, Satoshi Morimoto.

Morimoto said it would not be appropriate at this time to specify a location for the new radar, and said a date for its deployment has not yet been set.

While officials insisted the radar system would not be aimed at China, the decision was sure to raise the ire of Beijing.

More China coverage on our Behind the Wall blog

The radar will "enhance our ability to defend Japan," Panetta said, adding that he would talk to Chinese leaders about the system to assure them that this about protecting the U.S. and the region from North Korea's missile threat.

"We have made these concerns clear to the Chinese," he said. "For that reason ... we believe it is very important to move ahead" with the radar system.

More North Korea coverage from NBCNews.com

North Korea has long been trying to build a nuclear arsenal, has also been working on a ballistic missile which would be able to reach the U.S. mainland. However, its long-range rocket tests have to date all failed.

David Guttenfelder / AP

In this March 9, 2011 photo, a girl plays the piano inside the Changgwang Elementary School in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

Japan has worked closely with the U.S. for several years on missile defense, and has both land- and sea-based missile launchers.

North Korea's ballistic missiles are considered a threat to security in the Asia-Pacific region because of the risk of conflict erupting on the divided and heavily militarized Korean peninsula, and because of the secretive North's nuclear weapons program.

The long-range rockets it is developing have been test-fired over Japan and could potentially reach the U.S.

The North conducted its latest long-range rocket launch in April, defying a U.N. ban. Pyongyang said the launch was intended to send an observation satellite into space but it drew international condemnation as the rocket technology is similar to that used for ballistic missiles.

Elizabeth Dalziel / AP

From work to play, see pictures from inside the secretive country.

The launch was a failure and the rocket disintegrated shortly after takeoff.

Panetta is on his third trip to Asia in 11 months, reflecting the Pentagon's ongoing shift to put more military focus on the Asia-Pacific.

Territorial disputes
The defense chief is urging countries involved in territorial disputes in the region to find a way to peacefully resolve those problems before they spark provocations and violence.

Panetta's visit to Japan also included discussions with Morimoto about the deployment of V-22 Ospreys to the southwestern island of Okinawa. Tens of thousands of people have protested the hybrid aircraft's planned use, saying they are unsafe.

Kcna / AFP - Getty Images

A pictorial look at the North Korean leader through the years

The U.S. had hoped to have the aircraft in place as early as next month, but Morimoto said no specific date has been set on that matter, either.

The Pentagon plans to deploy 12 of the aircraft, which take off and land like a helicopter, but fly like a plane. U.S. officials have assured Japanese leaders the Ospreys are safe.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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