Saturday, January 30, 2010

PaCom boss: Vote not setback to moving Futenma

PaCom boss: Vote not setback to moving Futenma

Audrey McAvoy - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Jan 26, 2010 21:03:24 EST

CAMP H.M. SMITH, Hawaii — The election of a mayor who opposes moving a U.S. air field to his Japanese town isn’t a setback to efforts to fulfill a 2006 bilateral agreement to relocate the base, the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific said Tuesday.

On Sunday, voters in the town of Nago on Okinawa elected base opponent Susumu Inamine as mayor over incumbent Yoshikazu Shimabukuro. Inamine had campaigned against any expansion of U.S. military presence in the area and won with 52.3 percent of the vote.

Adm. Robert F. Willard said he believes more issues than just the Marine air field contributed to the mayor’s election.

“There’s probably a broader set of questions and a broader analysis that is appropriate to determine who won the election and why,” Willard said. “I don’t think it should be regarded as a setback.”

Still, Willard said the U.S. has “a good amount of work to do” to explain the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance to the Japanese people.

“We bear a responsibility to share that message with them and to encourage the Japanese government, as well as to share with their people the importance of the alliance — why it exists and what benefits all of Asia derives from it,” Willard said.

Washington and Tokyo agreed in 2006 to reorganize U.S. troops in Japan, including moving 8,000 Marines to the U.S. territory of Guam, as a way to lighten the burden on Okinawa.

Part of that plan involves relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the northern part of the island where it is less congested.

The newly elected government of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has vowed to re-examine the decision to move Futenma to Nago. Some of Hatoyama’s Cabinet members said they want the base moved off Japanese territory entirely, a sentiment shared by many residents there.

His foreign minister this month pledged that Tokyo would determine the future of Futenma by May in a way that would have “minimal impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

Under a security pact signed in 1960, U.S. armed forces are allowed broad use of Japanese land and facilities. In return, the U.S. is obliged to respond to attacks on Japan and protect the country under its nuclear umbrella.

Willard showed some patience for the new Japanese administration as it works out a solution for the base, saying it was “pretty natural” to have the new government “come in with a questioning attitude” and challenge assumptions.

“There’s no question there’s a new administration in Japan, and that the United States is getting acquainted with that new administration and so am I,” Willard said.

The admiral said the military-to-military relationship between the two nations was as strong as it’s ever been.

Shortly after speaking to reporters, Willard joined a videoconference with Japanese military leaders to discuss a bilateral exercise called “Keen Edge ‘10” involving hundreds of U.S. and Japanese personnel in the two countries.

The six-day exercise, which ends Wednesday, is designed to increase combat readiness and the interoperability of the two militaries.

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