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U.S. Missile Technology Interests Japan : Asia: Hosokawa sees threat from North Korea, welcomes American bid to swap defense know-how for commercial data.


TOKYO — Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa said Friday that Japan is interested in an American proposal to provide technology to develop an anti-ballistic missile system to protect it from North Korea.

"Of course, North Korea is a very big threat to Japan, and I am very strongly concerned" about North Korean missile and nuclear weapons developments, the prime minister told American correspondents on the eve of his first trip abroad.

"I think both sides would have interest" in a proposal made by the United States for America to provide Japan with antimissile know-how in exchange for Japanese technology that could be used to produce commercial products, Hosokawa said.

John M. Deutch, undersecretary of defense, discussed the proposal with Japanese officials here Wednesday.

"The missile North Korea is developing has a range of 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) and could hit much of Japan eight minutes after it is launched, coming almost straight down," Hosokawa said. "How to develop a defense against that is a matter of great concern to Japan."

It was the first time the new prime minister, who took office Aug. 9, called North Korea a threat to Japan. His reaction to the proposed cooperation with the United States also was the most positive that any Japanese official has offered.

Hosokawa, who will leave today to give a speech at the United Nations and meet President Clinton in New York on Monday, said he will not bring up the antimissile system when he sees Clinton. But he said the two leaders may discuss North Korean missile and nuclear weapons development.

Hosokawa said his meeting with Clinton will be "decisively different" than previous visits to the United States by Japanese prime ministers who typically carried "presents" with them.

"There will be no present beyond the fact that I am visiting," he said.

Hosokawa also rejected setting a numerical target for reducing Japan's trade surplus globally or with the United States, and he said he is not ready to make a decision on whether to slash income taxes. The Clinton Administration and many Japanese business people and economists have been urging a tax cut to revitalize the economy and pull in more imports.

"We should watch the economy a little more before making a final judgment," he said.

A package of economic stimulants advertised as worth $57 billion, adopted Sept. 16, was widely criticized as insufficient to halt a slide this year toward the first decline in Japan's gross national product since 1974.

Hosokawa predicted that the two countries' negotiators will be able to fix criteria for progress in specific trade sectors and held out hope that American construction firms might be allowed to bid openly on public works contracts in Japan.

"I asked the Construction Ministry to make a little bit more effort" to solve the construction dispute, he said.

Hosokawa noted that he and Clinton will meet Monday, again in Seattle in November, when the United States hosts a summit of leaders of the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation group, and a third time in the United States in January. He predicted that by the end of the third meeting "a mutually satisfactory . . . result" will be found to end trade problems between the two nations.

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