Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pentagon holding firm on Japan base realignment agreement

Japanese lawmakers want to scrap plans in ’06 bilateral deal

By David Allen, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Saturday, September 12, 2009

CHATAN, Okinawa — The Pentagon on Wednesday reasserted the United States’ stance that the 2006 bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan was cast in stone.

During a press briefing, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said he expected Japan’s new government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, will continue to work with the U.S. "on all the existing agreements we have in place."

Those agreements, he said, include "the base realignment, the Guam realignment and so forth."

The comments came after news that the DPJ will form a government with the minority Social Democratic Party and People’s New Party after three days of intense negotiations concerning the military alliance with the U.S.

All three parties favor scrapping the current plan to build a new Marine airstrip on Camp Schwab, in rural northeast Okinawa. Under the 2006 agreement, the two countries agreed to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the middle of a dense urban area to Camp Schwab. The plan also calls for moving 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam by the end of 2014.

The DPJ softened its rhetoric concerning the realignment during the campaign leading up to its smashing defeat of the Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled Japan for more than 50 years. Instead, the party focused on domestic issues.

But in forming the coalition government, the two minority parties insisted on a statement concerning the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Katsuya Okada, the Democratic Party’s No. 2 executive and expected to be the country’s next foreign minister, told reporters Wednesday that the three parties agreed to "propose amending the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, and will consider revising the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, as well as reviewing the nature of U.S. bases in Japan."

The agreement said nothing concerning the left-leaning SDP’s demand to end the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling missions in the Indian Ocean, Okada said. Morrell said he hoped Japan would continue refueling U.S. ships in the future.

"We have greatly benefited from — as has the world, for that matter — from Japan’s participation in those efforts, and we would very much encourage them to continue those efforts," he said.

"Japan is a great power, one of the world’s wealthiest countries," he said. "And there is an international responsibility, we believe, for everyone to do their share, as best they can, to contribute to this effort to bring about a more peaceful and secure Afghanistan."

Some Asia experts predict there will be room for compromising on issues such as the Futenma replacement plan. During a meeting of the Pacific Forum’s Center for Strategic and International Studies in San Francisco last March, Richard Armitage, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, said changes in the alliance would come with a new government.

"Regarding the U.S.-Japan security relationship: If the government of Japan asked us to change things, we’d argue, we’d kick and scream, but ultimately we’d have to do it," Armitage said.

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