TOKYO -- The military chiefs of Japan and the United States on Friday reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate closely on defense measures in order to deal with threats of missile and nuclear tests from North Korea.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, met with Japan's top defense officials as he wrapped up a weeklong trip in Asia that also took him to South Korea and China.
At the outset of his meeting with Dempsey, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera voiced concern over North Korea's repeated threats, which have prompted the U.S. to deploy an anti-ballistic missile battery to Guam and Japan to set up land-based missile interceptors around Tokyo.
"There is tension now in Japan, particularly on the North Korean issue," Onodera said. "There were repeated nuclear and missile tests, and this time there were also threatening statements on a missile launch."
Dempsey's trip came after weeks of rising hostility that saw North Korea unleashing threats of war on the U.S. and South Korea over U.N. sanctions meant to penalize Pyongyang over a nuclear test in February. Pyongyang has recently eased its rhetoric and expressed some tentative signs of interest in dialogue, though its demands, including the dismantling of all U.S. nuclear weapons, go far beyond what its adversaries will accept.
Later, at a joint news conference with Japan's joint staff chief, Gen. Shigeru Iwasaki, Dempsey pledged Washington's commitment to the U.S.-Japan security pact, under which the U.S. stations nearly 50,000 troops in Japan and is obligated to defend Japanese territory.
"Tensions are high in the region -- I know you're well aware of that -- but we're working very closely," Dempsey said. "And even with tensions high, I believe personally there are also opportunities that come of that for greater cooperation, greater integration, interoperability, and we're eager to take advantage of those opportunities."
Iwasaki said the U.S.-Japan alliance was vital, "not just for Japan's national security, but also the regional peace, stability and economic prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region."