Monday, June 29, 2009

Amendment Could Stall Marine Transfer

Amendment could stall marine transfer
Monday, 29 June 2009
by Romeo Carlos
Marianas Variety

AS EARLY as June 9, Japanese media reports were saying that negotiations between officials from Tokyo and Okinawa in Japan had come to a standstill over concerns about references made to amendments to the United States’ Fiscal Year 2010 defense budget.

More recently, the office of Representative Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii, proposed a key amendment to the fiscal 2010 defense budget that would jeopardize the planned transfer of 8,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The plan to move 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam is part of an agreement struck between the United States and Japan in May 2006 to realign the U.S. military presence in Japan by 2014. Relocating the Marines to Guam is closely tied to a key element of the agreement - transferring the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station's heliport functions from Ginowan in central Okinawa, to an alternative facility located near Camp Schwab, in Nago, a northern Okinawa prefecture.

Abercrombie’s amendment says the U.S. defense secretary should not give its approval to the alternative facility as long as it fails to comply with minimum flight safety requirements. The amendment would make it difficult to realize the agreement.

Abercrombie believes that an area extending from the lower part of Camp Schwab into shallow waters is not the right sort of location for the alternative facility and has urged that an alternate site be considered. The Hawaii congressman told Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun last week that the alternative facility under the current plan does not meet several safety standards; particularly:

- The runways are too short.
- A school, Okinawa National College of Technology, is located nearby.
- There are obstacles, such as utility polls, along the flight path.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported last Thursday a Japanese government source saying, "The content of this amendment suggests the transfer to the alternative facility agreed by Japan and the United States won't be permitted."

Another Japanese paper, Mainichi Daily, reported in early June that the Japanese ministry of defense is keen to reach a settlement on the relocation of the air base from Ginowan to the coastal side of Camp Schwab in Nago.

The paper detailed a reference made then by U.S. Marine Corps Commandant James Conway to a possible amendment of the relocation plans - an indication the U.S. is not settled in its stance.

Conway spoke to the Senate Committee on Armed Services on June 4, mentioning problems relating to training and the ability to move Futenma Air Station facilities, and said there were several amendments that deserved consideration, indicating that doubts remain over the direction of the relocation plans.

In testimony before the committee, Conway indicated a need to modify the plan to transfer U.S. Marines from Japan's Okinawa prefecture to Guam by 2014.

"This Futenma replacement facility has to be indeed a fully capable replacement for what we're giving up on Okinawa," Conway said, adding, "We are concerned about training opportunities on Guam, in the nearby islands as well as the rest of the Asia-Pacific basin.

"So there are some things like that, that we certainly want to see considered and negotiated as need be with the Japanese before we slap the table," he said.

As part of his opening remarks, Conway said, though the U.S. Marines support this move, he also believes the development of training areas and ranges on Guam and the adjoining islands of the Marianas are key prerequisites to the realignment of our forces.

Japanese Administrative Vice Minister of Defense Kohei Masuda confirmed in early June that, for their part, Japan intends to steadily press ahead with plans in line with the road map adopted by both governments. Another Defense Ministry official commenting on the situation told Mainchi Daily, "We are waiting carefully to see what the U.S. does first."

The opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which has requested that Futenma Air Station be moved out of Okinawa Prefecture, is opposed to an agreement on the relocation of U.S. Marines in Okinawa to Guam. The agreement, approved by the Japanese Diet in May, sets as a prerequisite a development toward the completion of a replacement for facilities at Futenma.

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