Friday, October 23, 2009

Tokyo still resistant to Washington base deal

Tokyo still resistant to Washington base deal

Fri, 23 Oct 2009 09:11:03 GMT

The Japanese prime minister has once again expressed his country's reluctance to keep a military deal with Washington over the presence of US forces.

"It's about how both sides avoid risks. That's what diplomacy is about," Premier Yukio Hatoyama told reporters on Friday. "There is no need to rush.”

In 2006, Washington and Japan's conservative party agreed a deal to reorganize US forces in the Asian country, but Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) ousted the conservatives, who had been in power for nearly half-century, in an August election.

Under the proposed deal, the functions of the Futenma air base would be transferred to a remoter part of the southern island of Okinawa, while shifting 8,000 Marines from the island to the US territory of Guam, partly at Japan's expense.

Despite US disagreement, Hatoyama had said he wanted the base moved off the island, which lies 1,600 km (1,000 miles) from the Japanese mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

Okinawa hosts more than half of the 47,000 American troops stationed in Japan. Their presence has often caused friction with the local community, especially when American servicemen have committed crimes.

In February 2008, US Marine Tyrone Hadnott was arrested for the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl on the island. The incident, which was reminiscent of a similar case in 1995, intensified tensions between the two nations.

The new center-left government in Tokyo has taken a more independent stance towards Washington.

Hatoyama's decision over the dispute could affect voter support for his government, now riding high at about 70% in most polls.

Earlier on Thursday, Japan's foreign minister reacted to remarks by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressing the Japanese government to proceed with the deal quickly.

"I don't think we will act simply by accepting what the US tells us, just because the US is saying this, in such a short space of time," Katsuya Okada said.


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