TOKYO -- The Obama administration said Monday it had reached an agreement with Japan to build a new radar site on Japanese territory to defend against possible ballistic missile attacks from North Korea.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, at a news conference in Tokyo, said Japan had agreed to host a second so-called X-band radar installation on its territory, and that a team of U.S. technical experts had arrived recently in Japan to identify a location.
U.S. officials have said previously that the installation would be located in southern Japan. One such radar station is operating on the main Japanese island of Honshu, but a second site further south would give the U.S. earlier and more complete coverage of missile launches from North Korea, officials said.
The new site would also permit the U.S. to reposition radar-carrying naval ships that currently patrol south of the Korean peninsula as part of the layered U.S. warning system for missile launches.
Panetta denied that the new installation was aimed at increasing radar surveillance of China, which has a dozens of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles. Beijing has concerns that the expanding U.S. ballistic missile defense system in the Pacific could degrade the deterrent value of its arsenal.
Panetta said the U.S. had sought to reassure Beijing that the radar is aimed at detecting launches from North Korea, which has periodically fired medium-range missiles in recent years, several of which have broken up early in their flight.
North Korea has "over the years engaged in provocative behavior with respects to their missiles," Panetta said. "We have made these concerns very clear, that North Korea and the use of these ballistic missiles is a threat to the United States."
Another U.S. defense official said: "This radar would be focused on addressing the growing North Korean missile threat to the U.S. homeland, as well as to our deployed forces and allies in the region."
The U.S. system, which includes ship-based missiles and radar, land-based radar sites in Asia and an interceptor site in Alaska, might be able to shoot down a small number of North Korean missiles but is not large enough to block all or even most of China's missiles, U.S. officials say.
The announcement of the new radar site came at a joint news conference after talks between Panetta and Japan's defense minister, Satoshi Morimoto.
Panetta's visit comes at a time of growing tensions between Japan and China over their contested claims to an East China Sea island chain, called the Senkakus by the Japanese and the Diaoyus by the Chinese.
Panetta urged Japan and China to resolve the dispute peacefully, and he stressed that the U.S. does not take sides in territorial disagreements.
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Photo: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and his Japanese counterpart, Satoshi Morimoto, hold a joint new conference in Tokyo. Credit: Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP/Getty Images