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Australia, Japan to Sign Defense Pact
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Japanese troops could be trained in counter-terrorism on Australian soil under a ground-breaking defense pact due to be signed between the two countries next month, Australia's government said Monday.

In what would be Japan's first defense agreement outside existing pacts with the Washington, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to sign a security deal with his Australian counterpart John Howard in mid-March in Japan.

"It is a very valuable relationship and it has a lot of characteristics, and whilst it's by no means certain that that's going to happen... I don't think Australians would object," Howard told journalists in Canberra.

Both Canberra and Washington have been pushing Japan to take a more active role in international peacekeeping, with Abe determined to reform Japan's pacifist post-World War II constitution.

Signing the pact after year-long talks would clear the way for joint military exercises, official military exchanges and closer cooperation on issues like the Korean Peninsula nuclear standoff.

Australia and Japan are members of the US-led Strategic Defence Initiative, intercepting ships of North Korea to search for missile delivery and nuclear weapons technology.

Australian troops in 2005 provided protection in Iraq for Japanese soldiers barred from carrying arms, and have worked alongside Japanese forces in Cambodia and East Timor.

Downer said the pact would not be a mutual defense treaty like Australia had with Washington, and would not necessarily lead to large-scale Japanese exercises in Australia, where troops from Singapore and the United States already train.

"They would probably focus much more on things like disaster relief rather than the more aggressive type military actions," Downer said, adding counter-terrorism would also feature.

Howard said a closer alliance with Japan would not upset Australian war veterans nursing bitter memories of confrontation with Japanese troops in Southeast Asia.

"We all remember World War II and I certainly am very conscious of sensitivities of long ago about that," he said.

"But Japan has become a wonderful friend and ally of Australia's. Australians rather like the idea of Australian and Japanese forces working together."

(China Daily via agencies February 6, 2007)

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