Friday, September 18, 2009

Japan FM wants talks on U.S. military base

Published: Sept. 18, 2009

TOKYO, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Japan says it wants to discuss revising a deal on relocating a U.S. Marine air station within Okinawa, but Washington opposes renegotiating the deal.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Katsuya Okada, the foreign minister in the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition, said there must be "serious discussions" on revising the relocation to reduce the burden on local residents.

The decision to transfer the air station, now located in a residential area of Ginowan, to the shores of Camp Schwab in Nago, also in the Okinawa Prefecture, was reached under a 2006 agreement.

Despite concerns that insistence on renegotiating the deal could cause friction between Japan and its closest ally, the United States, Okada said the issue is a top diplomatic priority.

"It is necessary for Japan and the Unites States to engage in discussions on this (air station) issue, making sure that there is a very high priority placed on it," he said, while noting the importance of the bilateral alliance.

The DPJ -- which won a landslide victory in last month's elections to Japan's lower house of parliament, ending the five-decade rule of the Liberal Democratic Party -- had campaigned on charting a more independent foreign policy.

Last month, U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly had been quoted as saying the plan, to be completed in about six years, cannot be renegotiated. The plan also calls for moving 8,000 of the 15,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The Times reported that deal faces strong opposition in Okinawa because of environmental and social concerns about the new base.

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