WASHINGTON—The Reagan administration is asking Japan to participate in a major U.S.-led research project as part of what it hopes will be a tougher bilateral agreement on scientific cooperation.

The U.S. proposal has, not been made public, but it is thought to seek Japan’s participation in a large-scale project such as the space station or the Superconducting Supercollider. According to Charles T. Owens, the National Science Foundation’s member of the negotiating team, “the people most interested in this at OSTP [the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy] have wanted it to be the flagship for U.S.-Japan relations.” They want it to include “jazzy projects,” he said, declining to spell out details of the proposal.

Japan has overcome its initial surprise at the expanded scope of the U.S. proposal, said Toichi Sakata, first secretary in the science office at the Japanese Embassy here. Sakata said he is optimistic that...

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