U.S., Japan seek resolution to military base feud
By Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan and the United States appear headed
toward settling a feud over where to relocate a U.S. military
base in Japan, clearing the way for a broader deal that would
help tighten military cooperation between the two allies,
Japanese media and diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.
Officials from the two countries are working on an
agreement on the realignment of America’s nearly 50,000
military personnel stationed in Japan. They hope to draft an
interim report in time for an expected meeting of U.S.
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
in Japan next month.
The talks — part of Washington’s efforts to transform its
global military into a more flexible force — have been
stalemated over where to relocate the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air
base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, host to about
half the U.S. forces in Japan.
On Wednesday, however, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported
that Tokyo was ready to give up its proposal to incorporate
Futenma’s airport in the U.S. Marine’s Camp Schwab on Okinawa
and was leaning toward accepting a U.S. counter-proposal to put
it on a new offshore facility to be built nearby.
“We’re at a stage now where we have a chance for real
movement,” a U.S. source said.
“I think a lot of the elements of what would be a package
are in place…but we’re not quite there.”
U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless was expected
to arrive in Japan later on Wednesday for talks on realignment.
The Asahi newspaper said that if the Futenma dispute were
resolved, the two sides would also agree to relocate the
headquarters of the U.S. Marine Corps’ III Marine Expeditionary
Force from Okinawa to Guam, cutting the number of Marines on
Okinawa by several thousand from their current 18,000 or so.
“This has still to be negotiated, but people are trying to
be creative about maintaining capability and enhancing the
alliance while reducing the ‘footprint’ (of the U.S. military
presence),” the U.S. source said.
Japanese media reported last week that the feud over
Futenma had prompted U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to
cancel a planned visit to Japan later this month.
Another plan in the works involves moving the command
function of the U.S. Army I Corps, stationed in Fort Lewis in
Washington state as a quick reaction force for the Pacific Rim,
to the U.S. Army Japan’s Camp Zama near Tokyo, U.S. and
Japanese sources have said.
Military experts and government sources said the spat over
Futenma risked overshadowing important moves toward boosting
cooperation between U.S. and Japanese forces and sorting out
how to share the regional security burden.
“Unfortunately, Futenma has become very symbolic and
public,” a Japanese government source said.
Japan and the United States in 1996 reached a sweeping pact
to reduce the burden of the American military presence on
Okinawa, one of Japan’s poorest prefectures.
The cornerstone of the deal, which followed the 1995 rape
of an Okinawan schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen, was an
agreement to close Futenma within seven years, provided an
alternative facility could be found on Okinawa.