March 17, 2006

US official faults Japan attitude on bases: paper

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States is unhappy that
Japanese officials involved in talks to relocate American
troops are putting priority on assuaging local opposition, a
senior U.S. official was quoted as saying in a major daily on

Washington is concerned that many Japanese officials are
not focused on the importance of the security alliance, U.S.
Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless was quoted as
saying in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun.

The two sides are working to seal a deal on the realignment
of U.S. forces in Japan by the end of March, but talks have
been bogged down by opposition from Japanese communities
concerned about noise, accidents and crime associated with U.S.

"We want to maintain deterrence while lessening the burden
of the communities with bases," Japanese Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi told parliament on Friday.

"We still need to talk and coordinate with both U.S.
authorities and local governments."

The plan to reorganize the approximately 50,000 U.S. troops
in Japan, including a proposed shift of 7,000 Marines to Guam
from the southern island of Okinawa, is part of Washington's
global strategy to make its forces more flexible.

In the latest sign of local opposition, the mayor of
Iwakuni in western Japan demanded on Thursday that the central
government scrap a plan to expand a nearby U.S. base after the
proposal was overwhelmingly voted down in a referendum last

On Friday, a U.S. sailor pleaded guilty to charges of
murdering a Japanese woman in January in the port city of
Yokosuka near Tokyo, where a U.S. aircraft carrier is based,
Kyodo news agency said.

The Asahi quoted Lawless as saying the problem was that the
debate tended to focus on local communities' trivial concerns.

But he said Washington was willing to revise some proposals
already agreed with Tokyo in October, including base
reshuffling on the southern island of Okinawa, reluctant host
to the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.

He was also quoted as saying Washington would not insist on
reaching a final agreement by end of March.

In the deal reached in October, the two sides had agreed to
relocate a U.S. Marine heliport within Okinawa as a
prerequisite for moving Marines to Guam, but the Okinawa
governor has insisted that Tokyo review the plan.

Japanese cabinet ministers, however, denied a report in the
Sankei Shimbun newspaper that they had agreed to alter the
Okinawa heliport plan.