Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marines’ relocation faces delay

Marines’ relocation faces delay

Thursday, 17 December 2009 05:17 by Foster Klug | Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP)-- The United States is expressing discomfort that Japan is delaying relocation of a major U.S. military base even as it signals a willingness to be patient with the country's new government.

Part of the plan also involves moving about 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam by 2014, but the U.S. military says that plan cannot move forward until Futenma's replacement facility is completed.

Gen. James Conway, the U.S. Marine Corps commandant, told reporters he had not been informed about the delay. But, he said, "at this point, it sounds like it's more and more up in the air, which is unfortunate."

"The Futenma replacement facility is absolutely vital to the defense that we provide for the entire region," Conway said.

Conway said questions have arisen about whether the move to Guam could be done by 2014. "Any delay at this point only puts that date, I think, in greater doubt," he said.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley offered a more muted response when asked about U.S. frustration with Japan.

"The Japanese government has indicated to us that they'd like a little more time to work through these issues, and we're happy to oblige them," Crowley told reporters. But, he added, U.S.-Japan talks would not be "an indefinite conversation."

U.S. lawmakers have approved $300 million for the current fiscal year for the relocation of the Marines to Guam, and the overall bill is awaiting Obama's expected signature into law.

Despite widespread frustration over Japan's backtracking on a signed agreement, Washington is giving Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama some time to get his footing in the aftermath of elections that threw out a party that had ruled Japan for most of the post-World War II era. That patience has its limits, however, as U.S. officials indicated Tuesday after Hatoyama said Japan needs several more months to decide on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the southern island of Okinawa.

Sen. John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and President Barack Obama's rival in the 2008 presidential race, spoke of the need to act urgently.

"American troops in Japan are a force of stability in Asia," McCain said at a Washington think tank. "I hope we can work out these negotiations as quickly as possible, since there is questioning throughout Asia as to what exactly the U.S.-Japanese relationship will be in light of the new government of Japan."

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