Thursday, February 11, 2010

U.S. in the dark on final Futenma decision

U.S. in the dark on final Futenma decision



Washington has no idea what decision Tokyo will reach in May on relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

Apparently underscoring Washington's sense of frustration, Campbell said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with The Asahi Shimbun in Tokyo: "I don't know where we'll end up in the end. Almost every day someone comes out with a statement or a proposal. What we're looking for is a process that is disciplined."

He reiterated Washington's position that the 2006 agreement to move the Futenma Relocation Facility (FRF) to Henoko, Okinawa Prefecture, remains the best approach from the standpoint of maintaining a credible deterrent capability for the bilateral alliance and also for reducing the footprint of U.S. forces in Okinawa Prefecture.

At the same time, he said the United States will "remain open for a dialogue and be flexible and listen" to Japanese ideas.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

* * *

Question: On the Futenma relocation issue, what progress have you made through the latest meeting of the Japan-U.S. Security Subcommittee (SSC) you just attended today (Feb. 2)?

Answer: I think what we learned more today was the process going forward. I think (our) Japanese friends briefed us on the coalition dialogue that they're having, about the process that they hope to take over the course of the next several weeks, and what we heard mostly was an explanation of the timing of that.

We still believe that the current FRF plan is the right approach, that it has the elements that we're looking for, consolidation in the northern part of the Okinawa main island, diversification in terms of moving some Marines to Guam, and still maintaining a strong deterrent capability for the U.S.-Japan relationship.

We were quite clear about that, so we're trying to walk a fine line. We're trying to be both firm but, at the same time, make clear to Japanese friends that we have to remain open for a dialogue and be flexible and listen to their ideas.

Q: What will it take to bring things to your goal?

A: We're at the very beginning of this process. I think the best and most important ingredient is just going to be close dialogue. So, we're going to be meeting almost every week for the coming couple of months. And that close dialogue is the essential ingredient. The truth is, I don't know where we're going to be in three months.

Q: Could you elaborate?

A: I don't know where we'll be. All I know is that we'll be working closely together. I don't know where we'll end up, in the end.

Q: Do you mean you're not confident in this process?

A: No, I didn't say that. I just said I'm not sure where we'll end up. I have confidence that there have been some commitments made on the part of the Japanese government, the prime minister to the president. But, at the same time, this is a complicated process.

Q: On Jan. 24, a mayoral candidate opposing the current FRF [Futenma Replacemebt Facility] plan was elected in the city of Nago, where Henoko is located. Do you think the Henoko option is less feasible now, if not totally dead?

A: It makes it more challenging, and we have to be attentive to local conditions. But at the same time, there is a recognition that, for issues as important as the U.S.-Japan alliance, ultimately these decisions have to be taken at the central government level, between Washington and Tokyo.

And decisions have to be made not just for small villages but for the entirety of the population of Japan and the United States and the strength of our overall alliance.

Q: Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said in a news conference Monday (Feb. 1) that at the end of the day, the conclusion could be the continued use of the Futenma Air Station. Could you respond to this?

A: I can't. I mean, I will say this: We've heard a number of statements. Almost every day someone comes out with a statement or a proposal.

What we're looking for is a process that is disciplined, that senior Japanese friends provide us with either questions or input, or ideas, and that we have an opportunity to work with them on that process. That's our goal here.

Q: Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has said that Washington should have a Plan B. What are your views?

A: I have heard what Ambassador Armitage has indicated. We've tried to be very clear that at the same time that we believe that our current approach is the right one, we also believe that there has to be a degree of flexibility as well.

Q: But, if you don't know where it is going to end up, don't you have to prepare for the worst-case scenario?

A: I think that, at this juncture, the most important thing I can state is that we still believe that the current plan is the best plan but, at the same time, we have to be prepared to listen and to be flexible with our Japanese friends.

And we think about many different scenarios, in Japan and elsewhere.

Q: Is it disturbing for you to hear so many different scenarios and options coming from Tokyo?

A: I wouldn't say "disturbing," but I think the truth is that for many years, there has been a desire for a more open U.S.-Japan alliance, more democratization in Japan, Japanese decision-making and a link between the policymakers and the people in Japan, and that process is happening now, inside the country.

I don't, for a minute, believe that that process will be easy, but I also think, in the long run, it's likely to be a healthy process. So, what's important on the part of the United States is to have confidence in Japan, not to react to every little press comment, and to keep the long view on the horizon, which is that the United States and Japan need to work closely together.

Q: Tell me about the situation on Capitol Hill. Are you concerned that their patience may soon wear out and the situation will get out of hand?

A: I don't think the situation will "get out of hand," because there is such a strong desire to see U.S.-Japan relations move forward together.

The truth is, as we travel around the region, one of the things that I've been struck by over the course of the last couple of months, is how many countries have raised with us the desire for the U.S.-Japan relationship to remain the stable foundation of all that we do in the region.

At the same time, there's a broad recognition in the U.S. government and in Congress that it's very difficult for us to achieve anything in Asia without a strong partnership with Japan.

So, I think there may be occasional impatience, on either side, but there is also a deep recognition that it is critical for us to find the best way to work together, moving forward.

Q: You think it's still manageable?

A: Oh yes. The situation we face today is not in any way similar to 1995 and 1996 (when there was a rape of a schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen in Okinawa and the redefinition process of the alliance came to the center of public attention). That was a real crisis. This is not a real crisis. It's just a new government, two new governments, one in the United States and one in Japan. But, the fundamentals are very sound, very strong support in both countries, clear reasons for the alliance to remain strong, and a desire by the leadership on the two sides to do so.

Q: What lies at the core of the Futenma issue? Do you think this problem is just a temporary stalemate of policy implementation due to the power transition in Tokyo, or is this a manifestation of a much more fundamental shift of Japanese views on the alliance with the United States?

A: I think it's a new government. I think there are some different perspectives. I think it is incumbent on the United States to work closely with this new government, to answer questions, to make sure that we dispel concerns. We believe that is a critical component of our relationship, going forward.

But, you must also look over the course of the last couple of months. Despite some of these differences, Japan has done remarkable things.

Which country provided the most support after Copenhagen? Japan. Which country sent the largest amount of support to Afghanistan? Japan. Which country stepped up to assist us in Haiti? Pirates off the coast of Africa? Japan has taken a remarkably responsible role. We're working closely with them on Burma (Myanmar), on Iran.

So, I feel very confident about the things that we can do together, going forward.

Q: What did you discuss with Ichiro Ozawa, secretary-general of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan? Did you talk about the FRF [Futenma Replacement Facility]?

A: No. We mostly talked about the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance. We talked a little bit about Japanese history. We talked about his perspectives on China, and on the United States.

Q: Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and President Barack Obama agreed during their summit talks last November that the Japan-U.S. alliance needs to be deepened. What do you think needs to be talked about to reach that goal? How should, and would it be different from the so-called redefinition of the Japan-U.S. alliance back in 1996?

A: Well, the world has changed remarkably since 1996, and I think what we want is a deeper discussion on regional issues, on global matters, new challenges like cybersecurity, information, but also on climate change and the like.

So, I think what we need is a broader definition of why the U.S.-Japan alliance still continues to play a critical role, going forward.

Q: Harvard University professor Joseph Nye wrote in an Op-Ed piece for The New York Times that our alliance is larger than one issue. But, could you really proceed with the deepening process, while bypassing such a critical issue as Futenma?

A: I will give you one prediction. We will solve the FRF [Futenma Replacement Facility] problem and we will be able to move forward as an alliance. We'll be able to do both of those things in the coming year.

Q: The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) has just been issued by the Pentagon. Can you tell me what impact it has on U.S. strategy toward Asia and the Pacific and the Japan-U.S. alliance, if any?

A: I think you are going to see that the United States recognizes that, in addition to the urgent challenges that we face in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is a recognition that we have longer-term challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, and that we need to take appropriate steps to ensure that our position remains strong in Asia, and I think you will see substantial steps and commitments in the QDR, to ensure that we maintain such a profile.

Q: Is there going to be any pullout of forces?

A: Not "pullout," but we're going to look to have more access and more (troops) in Southeast Asia.

Q: When Ozawa visited China in December, a senior DPJ politician, Kenji Yamaoka, who is a very close political ally of Ozawa, said in a speech in Shanghai that Ozawa confirmed with President Hu Jingtao that the Japan-U.S.-China relationship should be an equilateral triangle. Could you respond?

A: I think a better approach is something like a different kind of triangle, like an isosceles triangle or something like that.

The truth is that U.S.-Japan relations are ... we are allies and we're partners, and we have a fundamentally different kind of relationship than either the relationship between the United States and China, or the relationship between Japan and China.

But, the fact is that what we want to see are closer relations between Japan and China. We believe that is in our interests. We support it. We think that reducing tensions, building trust and confidence, is a critical part of Japanese foreign policy and we, in no way, would discourage that.

At the same time, we want communication among all three to increase and to maintain the strength of the U.S.-Japan security alliance.

Q: Are we going to see any progress on North Korea?

A: Well, I mean, I think the progress that we're seeing, to be perfectly honest, is the solidarity among the key players. China, but particularly South Korea, the United States, and Japan, in ensuring that the most important steps that North Korea can take are to come back to the six-party talks and to abide by their commitments made in 2005 and 2007, and that, unless we have progress, we are not going to ease our sanctions policies toward the DPRK.

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