March 24, 2006

Japan, US split on military base relocation cost

By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - Talks aimed at wrapping up a plan to
reorganize the U.S. military in Japan ended without a deal on
Friday and negotiators will meet in Washington next week to try
to close the gaps by an end-of-March deadline, a U.S. source

Japan's foreign minister said the two sides were divided
over how much Tokyo should pay toward moving 8,000 U.S. Marines
to Guam from the island of Okinawa, a key part of a broader
plan to reorganise the more than 50,000 U.S. military personnel
in Japan.

"These are negotiations ... so it's natural that there is
quite a gap," Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters.

Washington has proposed that Tokyo pay 75 percent of the
estimated $10 billion it will cost to move the Marines to Guam,
while Japan wants to reduce the bill and provide at least some
of the funds in the form of loans because of its huge public

On Friday, Japan presented an offer to provide $2.5 billion
in loans to pay for the construction of housing for the
families of U.S. military personnel, Kyodo news agency said.

Squabbling over the funding and opposition from Japanese
communities worried about noise, crime and accidents associated
with the U.S. bases have delayed finalizing details of the
deal, which was agreed last October.

The March deadline was self-imposed but an extended delay
could frustrate Washington, which is trying to transform its
military globally into a more flexible force.

Talks earlier this week between Japanese defense officials
and the mayor of Nago City on Okinawa failed to patch up
domestic differences over the proposed relocation of the U.S.
Marines' Futenma air base from a crowded part of the island to
an area straddling another base and the Nago coast.


The Futenma relocation is a core element of the broader
plan and a prerequisite for shifting the Marines to Guam.

"We want them (negotiators) to make efforts to reach an
agreement by the end of March," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo
Abe told a news conference earlier in the day.

"On the other hand, we must explain sincerely to the local
people," Abe added, in a sign an agreement might be delayed.

A stated goal of the realignment in Japan is to reduce
tensions with communities that host U.S. bases.

Some experts predicted compromises could be found, both to
settle the Futenma dilemma and the funding feud.

"I'm quite optimistic," said one Japanese military expert.

"The main reason is that politicians like (Defense Minister
Fukushiro) Nukaga and (Prime Minister Junichiro) Koizumi are so
determined to finish the job."

Resentment of the U.S. military presence runs especially
deep in Okinawa, one of Japan's poorest prefectures and host to
about half the U.S. military presence in Japan. The 1995 rape
of a Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. servicemen prompted huge
demonstrations there and calls for the removal of the U.S.

On Friday, an American employee of the U.S. Kadena Air Base
on Okinawa was sentenced to nine years in prison for raping two
women, a spokesman for the Naha District Court said.

Media reports described the man, Dag Thompson, 36, as an
ex-Marine who had sold cars at the base and was arrested in
2004. U.S. military officials could not immediately comment.