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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon called North Korea's latest missile tests "unhelpful and potentially destabilizing" on Wednesday as it announced a trip by Defence Secretary Robert Gates to Seoul and Tokyo next week.
Gates will start his visit with talks with Japan's new government, which has promised to forge a diplomatic stance more independent of Washington, its close ally.
Gates aimed to help Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government "better understand" past defence agreements on U.S. bases in Japan and an Afghanistan refuelling mission, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
"We obviously want to work with the new government to make sure they have all the information they need to better understand what has been agreed to by previous governments," Morrell said.
"Obviously we think these are very complicated agreements that are beneficial to both of our countries and to our long-term relationship and to the security situation in the region."
Japan's defence minister said on Tuesday that Tokyo would end its refuelling mission in support of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan when its mandate expires, but the top government spokesman said a decision had yet to be made.
The Japanese prime minister has said he wants a U.S. Marine air base moved off the island of Okinawa. Tokyo and Washington had previously agreed to moved the air base to a less crowded area and shift up to 8,000 Marines to Guam.
Gates will co-chair annual security talks on October 21-22 in South Korea, where about 28,000 U.S. troops are stationed.
He will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to its defence in the wake of North Korea's missile tests this week, Morrell said.
"Obviously, missile launches of that nature are unhelpful and potentially destabilizing and are frowned upon by us and by others in the region," he said.
North Korea fired five short-range missiles off its east coast on Monday, in a move seen by analysts as an attempt to boost its bargaining position before expected talks on ending its nuclear weapons program.
The launch coincided with the arrival of the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington off the South Korean coast. The North usually protests against such visits as a "prelude to war."
(Reporting by Adam Entous and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chris Wilson)