Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Official: U.S. willing to compromise on Futenma

Official: U.S. willing to compromise on Futenma

By Teri Weaver and Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, February 3, 2010

DOD will renegotiate current plan if Tokyo offers alternate recommendation

TOKYO — If Japan’s recommendations about moving a Marine air base on Okinawa do not match current plans, the United States will work with Japan to find another solution, according a top Pentagon official.

“If we have to go back to negotiating, we will go back to negotiating,” Wallace Gregson, assistant secretary of Defense for Asia and the Pacific, said Monday in response to a question about the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa.

“The solution is not an American-imposed one,” he said. “It’s a cooperative U.S. and Japanese solution.”

Sunday on Okinawa, Gregson also stressed he believes the current plan is “the most balanced plan which satisfies the needs of both governments.”

The remarks were the latest in a series of public talks in Japan by U.S. officials in recent days about the Futenma move, part of a long-term, multi-part plan to reposition U.S. and Japanese troops throughout the country.

Those realignment and security agreements — made nearly four years ago — have come under renewed scrutiny after Japan ousted its conservative ruling party last fall and installed a more liberal government for the first time in nearly five decades. Some in the new government were elected because they criticized the Futenma move, which would move the helicopter base to a more rural part of the island.

Shortly after the election, U.S. officials decried the need for a review of existing agreements. More recently, U.S. leaders have struck a more conciliatory tone in public, saying they need to do a better job explaining the Marines’ role on Okinawa and the reasons they need an air base on Okinawa.

“We certainly understand the need for the new government to reexamine” the previously approved move, Gregson said Monday afternoon before members of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a research group affiliated with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Yet he also stressed that U.S. officials expect to resolve the issue with the Japanese, rather than issue a set of demands.

Gregson is a retired three-star Marine Corps general who once commanded Marines on Okinawa and later throughout the U.S. Pacific Command. On Sunday he visited Okinawa, which hosts about half of the nearly 50,000 troops in Japan and provides about 75 percent of the land used by the U.S. military overall.

The Futenma relocation plan would benefit Okinawans by closing most of the U.S. bases south of Kadena Air Base, Gregson said during a news conference with local media on the island.

He said he understands some people in the U.S. might be upset with Japan’s review of the plan, but he called for patience.

“The United States will wait for May, when Prime Minister (Yukio) Hatoyama makes a final decision,” he said. “The realignment of U.S. forces Japan is the most complicated issue in the 50 years of alliance.”

Reporters Hana Kusumoto and David Allen contributed to this report.

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