Friday, October 23, 2009

Japan to craft new U.S. base plan by year-end: report

Japan to craft new U.S. base plan by year-end: report

Thu Oct 22, 2009 9:31pm EDT

OKYO (Reuters) - Japan will inform U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Tokyo next month that it will come up with a new plan by the end of the year to relocate a U.S. air base within the southern island of Okinawa, the Sankei newspaper reported on Friday.

The report comes days after the U.S. defense secretary bluntly called for a planned realignment of U.S. troops in Japan to be implemented, sparking concern about worsening ties between Washington and Japan's new government.

A broad deal to reorganize U.S. forces in Japan was agreed in 2006 between Washington and Japan's long-dominant conservative party, which was ousted by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party in an August election.

Central to the deal is a plan to move the functions of the Futenma air base to northern Okinawa, while shifting 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam, partly at Japan's expense. Japan is host to about 47,000 U.S. military personnel as part of the decades-old security alliance.

Hatoyama had said he wants the base moved off the island, where many complain about crime, noise, pollution and accidents associated with U.S. bases, but U.S. officials have ruled that out, saying it would undermine broader security agreements.

The Sankei reported that the government plans to come up with a new relocation site within Okinawa, citing unidentified government sources.

Hatoyama said on Thursday that Japan needed more time before making a decision on the Futenma base issue and that he did not regard Obama's November 12-13 visit as the deadline for Japan to reach a conclusion.

"It's about how both sides avoid risks. There is no need to rush," Hatoyama was quoted as saying on Friday by Kyodo News Agency.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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