Japan, NATO agree to collaborate for closer security

NATO has had informal contacts with Japan for years but has not involved itself in Asian security issues until it agreed to send peacekeepers to Afghanistan.

In the first visit ever of a Japanese minister to the alliance headquarters, Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso said his country wanted to draft permanent ties with the 26-nation grouping.

"The environment around the international security has changed quite drastically," Aso told reporters after his meeting with NATO ambassadors.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed the Japanese minister's rare visit saying it showed "ambition on the Japanese side, and the answer was additional on the NATO side, to increase our dialogue and practical cooperation."

The alliance is currently deploying more than 7,000 soldiers to southern Afghanistan as it expands its mission there to cover the more volatile southern provinces.

NATO countries, eager to ease the burden on their current troop deployments, have called for non-alliance nations to contribute to their mission in Afghanistan. By November NATO's ISAF force are expected to number 21,000 in total, in one of its biggest missions ever.

While Japan has not said it would seek to join any NATO mission in Afghanistan, it is currently running a separate program demobilizing Afghan militias.

De Hoop Scheffer has said the issue of forging closer ties with Asian nations including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and others, will be a top priority at a NATO summit in Riga, Latvia later this year.