By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA
TOKYO (AP)-The planned relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa to Guam may cost more and take longer than initially expected, local media reported Sunday.
The transfer, part of a bilateral agreement to realign the U.S. military presence in Japan, could be delayed until at least 2015 and exceed the initial $10.3 billion estimate, the Yomiuri newspaper said, citing unidentified sources.
With the U.S. Department of Defense likely facing budget cuts in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis, the government may ask Tokyo to foot a bigger portion of the bill, the Yomiuri said. Japan has thus far agreed to contribute about $6 billion for the transfer.
In New York on Wednesday, Adm. Timothy Keating, the senior U.S. commander in the Pacific, suggested that the relocation may not happen by 2014 as planned but reiterated that it would go ahead despite looming budgetary constraints.
“The two governments of the United States and Japan have recommitted at the very highest levels-prime minister and president-to the eventual success of the (agreement),” Keating said, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
A report by the Government Accountability Office suggested in May that the project could be pushed back, citing inadequate infrastructure in Guam and the growing fiscal burden on both governments. In September, it said costs could balloon beyond $15 billion.
However, a senior Defense Department official said Saturday that Washington still aims to complete the relocation by 2014.
“This reflects our shared determination to realize the new alliance posture expeditiously and in a manner that strengthens deterrence while reducing the size of the U.S. footprint in Okinawa,” said David Sydney, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, according to Kyodo News agency.
The Marines who will be moved to Guam, a U.S. protectorate, are part of the 50,000 troops currently stationed in Japan under a bilateral security pact.
A delay would likely affect the timetable for another major part of the agreement inked in 2006-relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station north of Ginowan to Nago in a more rural part of Okinawa.
The deal grew out of long-standing complaints in Okinawa about noise and crime related to the heavy U.S. military presence there. Okinawa is about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo.