Washington: A top US military official today called for better missile defence cooperation between Japan and South Korea, in the face of strained ties between America`s two closest Asia allies and a belligerent North Korea.
"We`re encouraging our allies and partners to acquire their own missile defences and to strengthen regional missile defence cooperation that will result in better performance than individual countries acting alone," said James Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff.
"We will continue to emphasise the importance of developing regional ballistic missile defence systems," Winnefeld said during a speech at the Atlantic Council think tank.
"This is a very politically sensitive topic for several of our regional allies, but progress in this area would only increase our confidence in the face of persistent North Korean provocations," Winnefeld said.
"This is about ensuring we can deny the objectives of any insecure authoritarian state that believes acquisition of deliverable weapons of mass destruction is key to the preservation of its regime."
Winnefeld said that in terms of weapons capability Pyongyang poses the greatest threat, "followed by Iran."
His appeal comes with relations between Seoul and Tokyo at their lowest level in years, strained by Japan`s 1910-45 colonial rule of Korea and a territorial dispute over islets in waters between the two countries.
Despite those regional tensions, Washington likely will "come to rely more" on its Asian allies "to resource the means for their defence," the general said -- especially "in a world of declining budgets."
North Korea`s nuclear and ballistic missile program is a major security concern in the Pacific region and beyond. Despite international isolation and extensive sanctions, Pyongyang appears to be readying a fourth nuclear test, observers have said.