Wednesday, November 18, 2009

U.S. tells Japan no other base plan possible

U.S. tells Japan no other base plan possible

Tue Nov 17, 2009 7:54pm IST

TOKYO (Reuters) - Washington's envoy to high level talks on the relocation of a U.S. base on the Japan's southern island of Okinawa told Japanese ministers there was no feasible alternative plan, foreign ministry officials said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised in the run-up to his August election victory to move the Futenma U.S. Marine base off Okinawa, contradicting an agreement Washington reached with a previous government to move it to another part of the island.

"The existing plan is the only feasible one and that is the view of the entire U.S. government after 15 years of negotiation," a Japanese government official quoted Wallace Gregson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Asia-Pacific region as saying in the first round of talks.

U.S. officials also warned that further delays to the implementation of the deal could affect a related plan to reduce the burden on Okinawa, which hosts about half the 47,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan, by shifting up to 8,000 Marines to Guam, the Japanese officials said.

The blunt comments underscore the gap between the world's two largest economies, which mark the 50th year of their security alliance next year.

On his first visit to Tokyo last week, U.S. President Barack Obama said the purpose of the working group was to implement the agreement on U.S. bases, which is supposed to be completed by 2014.

Hatoyama told reporters in Tokyo on Monday there was no point holding discussions if there was no possibility of change.

His cabinet ministers also appear divided on the issue, with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada suggesting the Marine base be merged with a nearby U.S. Air Force base, while Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa appears to accept the existing plan.

Thousands rallied in Okinawa just over a week ago to urge Hatoyama to keep his pledge to move the base off the island.

(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by David Fox)

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