Thursday, December 17, 2009

Japan intends to abide by overall accord on realignment of U.S. forces

Japan intends to abide by overall accord on realignment of U.S. forces

Dec 16 12:55 AM US/Eastern

(AP) - TOKYO, Dec. 16 (Kyodo) — Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Wednesday that Japan intends to abide by the overall 2006 Japanese-U.S. agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in the country, but will seek an alternative site to relocate a U.S. military base in Okinawa.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, meanwhile, defended his government's decision the previous day to postpone a decision on the relocation issue until next year, saying that he could find no better way to handle the situation when considering the realities in Okinawa.

The relocation of the U.S. Marines' Futemma Air Station elsewhere in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in the country, is a key part of the broad agreement on the U.S. military realignment in Japan, along with the transfer of about 8,000 Marines from the southern island to the U.S. territory of Guam by 2014. The whole plan is known as the "road map."

Washington has expressed concern that any delay in implementing the existing relocation plan would affect the entire road map, in part because the planned Marine transfer to Guam is contingent on the completion of a new airfield to be built in Okinawa to replace Futemma.

"The government takes the stance that it will not seek to change the current road map on the U.S. military," Hirano said at a news conference. "But on the issue of bases in Okinawa," he said, "the three parties (forming Hatoyama's coalition government) should be thinking in a forward-looking manner."

He then suggested that a modification could be made to the road map, saying, "There could be some variations in future negotiations between Japan and the United States."

In the United States on Tuesday, Gen. James Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, called Japan's postponement "unfortunate," saying that any delay on the decision is likely to lead to missing the 2014 deadline on plans in the 2006 agreement.

In response to Conway's remarks, Hatoyama said that while the Marines may not be happy with the turn of events, the Japanese government has its own policy and that "there is no better conclusion than this if you think about the current situation in Okinawa."

Tokyo will try to "seek understanding (from Washington) in the course of negotiations," he added.

Hatoyama said Tuesday that he will seek a new relocation site for the Futemma base other than the one agreed on between Japan and the United States in 2006, adding that he would need "several months" to reach a conclusion on the issue.

Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan forms a coalition government with the People's New Party and the Social Democratic Party, whose votes it needs to pass bills in the House of Councillors.

The SDP advocates moving the Futemma base outside the southernmost prefecture or abroad to lighten the burdens on the people of Okinawa.

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