Plan to Shift Marines to Guam Adrift / U.S. Senate Bill Cuts 70% of Funding
Satoshi Ogawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
WASHINGTON--In an apparent swipe at the Japanese government over its dithering on the issue of relocating a U.S. military airfield in Okinawa Prefecture, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to slash funding for a plan to transfer 8,000 U.S. marines in the prefecture to Guam.
A plenary session of the Senate passed a fiscal 2010 budget bill related to the construction of military installations that cut 211 million dollars, or about 70 percent, from the 300 million dollars sought by the administration of President Barack Obama to fund the planned transfer of the marines to the U.S. territory.
The transfer of the marines to Guam is one of the key goals of the U.S. military in Japan, along with the relocation of the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to Nago, both in Okinawa Prefecture.
The U.S. Congress was in favor of the 300 million dollars allocation for the transfer of the marines in late October when it approved the National Defense Authorization Bill, which stipulates the overall framework of the budget. The House of Representatives passed a bill approving the entire amount.
The Senate's action is believed to represent its displeasure with the fact that the Japanese government has repeatedly changed course on the issue of Futenma's relocation, and that there has been no resolution of the issue.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had warned the Japanese government that Congress would not allow the allocation of funds to move the marines should the planned relocation of Futenma stall.
A conference committee of both houses is expected to produce a final, unified version of the bill by the middle of December. The adjustments made by this committee will be a focal point in the days to come.
The White House already has sent a letter to the Senate, saying the massive budget cut could adversely affect the Japan-U.S. agreement concluded in February 2009 regarding the relocation of the marines. The White House is expected to work to restore the funding in the final version of the bill.
Time running out
The passing of the bill means there is a real danger that the Japanese government may not be able to reduce the heavy burden Okinawa Prefecture bears in hosting U.S. military facilities if it does not reach a decision on the issue of relocating Futenma within the year.
A U.S. expert on Japan said the Senate appears determined to postpone projects with an uncertain outlook, given the perilous financial situation of the United States due to such factors as the cost of the war in Afghanistan and economic stimulus measures.
The Japanese government hopes the U.S. administration can convince Congress to approve the funding of the troop transfer, but there is increasing dissatisfaction on the U.S. side toward the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, which continues to be indecisive on Futenma despite strong signals from Washington that the U.S. administration wants an early settlement of the issue.
(Nov. 19, 2009)