April 14, 2006

Funding feud blocks US-Japan troop deal

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States and Japan have a good
chance of wrapping up a deal to reorganize American troops in
Japan by early May, but must first resolve a dispute over how
much Tokyo will pay to shift Marines to Guam, a U.S. official
said on Friday.

The two sides have already missed a March 31 deadline for
finalizing the plan to realign the approximately 50,000 U.S.
military personnel in Japan, which is part of Washington's
global strategy to make its forces more flexible to meet modern

The close security allies are expected to hold a
"two-plus-two" meeting of defense and foreign ministers once
details of the plan have been finalized in working-level talks.

"I think we have a better than even chance to have a
'two-plus-two' in early May in Washington, but the Guam
financing issue overhangs the entire enterprise," a U.S.
government official told Reuters after two days of talks in

The United States wants Japan to pay 75 percent of the
estimated $10.5 billion Washington says it will cost to move
8,000 Marines off the southern island of Okinawa, mostly to the
U.S. territory of Guam, the U.S. official said.

Japan has said it wants to keep its share to less than half
and many Japanese voters and lawmakers oppose paying a hefty
chunk given the country's already huge public debt.

"The gap remains quite significant," said the U.S.
official, who declined to be identified. He said Japan should
pay up because the troops were leaving at Tokyo's request.

"It's narrowed, but it's quite significant."

UnderSecretary of Defense Richard Lawless said the United
States had signed off on a plan to relocate the Marines'
Futenma air base from a crowded part of Okinawa to an area
further north after a local mayor agreed to a slightly revised
plan to address complaints about noise and safety.

A deal to close Futenma -- a goal the two allies have been
pursuing for a decade -- is a prerequisite for shifting the
Marines out of Okinawa. The island is host to about half the
U.S. military personnel in Japan and many residents resent
bearing what they see as an unfair share of the burden for the

Affected Japanese communities in Okinama and elsewhere also
oppose parts of the plan due to worries about the noise, crime
and environmental damage that they associate with the U.S.

Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga told reporters that both
sides needed to come up with ideas to bridge the gaps.

"It isn't good enough just to state our respective
positions," Nukaga told reporters. "The United States should
also think about what kind of responses they can come up with."

Tokyo also has yet to persuade Okinawa Governor Keiichi
Inamine, who can legally block the Futenma relocation, to agree
to the alternate site on the island.

(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano)