Saturday, February 20, 2010

Relocation of US troops to NMI not done deal

Relocation of US troops to NMI not done deal

Wednesday, February 17, 2010
By Haidee V. Eugenio

Kitazawa Japan's Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Friday downplayed the idea of relocating up to 4,000 U.S. troops from the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa to Tinian, even as Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and the CNMI Military Integration Management Committee said yesterday that the Commonwealth welcomes such relocation consideration “only if such plan is supported and approved by the U.S. federal government and the Department of Defense.”

Tinian is one of the major islands in the U.S. territory of the CNMI.

“We are by no means trying to entice the Japanese government to push for the relocation of a base in the CNMI as this is solely a decision that will be made by the U.S. government. The administration and the MIMC will respect and support any such decisions that are made,” the Fitial administration said in a statement when asked for comment on the Futenma relocation issue.

Press Secretary Angel Demapan said Fitial and the MIMC will be open to any dialogue that the U.S. Department of Defense may want to engage in.

“However, any such dialogue would have to be at the request of the federal government,” he said.

International media quoted Japan's Kitazawa as saying that Futenma's relocation to the CNMI could be considered as a “long-term issue.”

He said, however, the views of the U.S. military on the relocation issue are important and that discussions are expected to take place on whether the necessary deterrence can be maintained in the Asia-Pacific region if all the Marine functions in Okinawa are transferred to Tinian.

Two-thirds of Tinian's land is leased to the U.S. military.

Three Japanese lawmakers who visited Saipan briefly on Feb. 10 told CNMI officials that they are considering the CNMI as one of relocation sites for 2,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops at Futenma.

In interviews with international media, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, who leads a government task force on the matter, also expressed little enthusiasm for the idea of relocating Futenma to Tinian. He said the task force has never discussed it before.

Japan had said it will reach a final conclusion by the end of May on where it wants to see the Futenma facility relocated, and a government committee has been exploring possible candidate sites, while Washington, D.C. maintains that a plan agreed upon by Japan and the United States in 2006 to move the Futenma base to a less densely populated part of Okinawa is the best option.

The three Japanese lawmakers who visited Saipan last week-Mikio Shimoji, Tomoko Abe, and Ryoichi Hattori-met with Fitial, Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos, House Speaker Froilan C. Tenorio (Cov-Saipan), and Senate President Paul A. Manglona (R-Saipan).

The three lawmakers were part of a 23-member Japanese government delegation who arrived in Guam for a “fact-finding” visit, particularly to see if there's suitable place on Guam for more U.S. troops to be relocated off Okinawa.

The up to 4,000 considered to be relocated to Tinian is in addition to the estimated 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents who are expected to be relocated by 2014, although Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho asked for the military buildup to be delayed until after 2014.

Fitial and other CNMI officials last week said they welcome the relocation of U.S. troops to the Commonwealth provided the U.S. government consents to such move. This statement was repeated yesterday by the administration and the MIMC.

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