Tuesday, February 16, 2010

US senator to seek solutions on Japan base row

US senator to seek solutions on Japan base row

Feb 9 02:50 PM US/Eastern

US Senator Jim Webb will head to Japan in a bid to seek solutions in an increasingly rancorous debate over a US military base on the southern island of Okinawa, his office said Tuesday.

Webb, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and the Armed Forces subcommittee on personnel, will visit Tokyo, Okinawa and the US Pacific territory of Guam on the one-week trip starting Saturday.

Webb will "listen carefully to the views of the current Japanese government, the leaders and citizens of Okinawa and Guam and US military leaders and personnel stationed in the Pacific region," his office said in a statement.

The United States and Japan in 2006 reached an agreement to shift thousands of US troops to Guam from Okinawa, where the heavy presence of US forces has long led to frictions with the local community.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama launched a review of a key part of the deal -- the status of Futenma air base -- after his left-leaning coalition defeated Japan's long-ruling conservatives in the historic August 30 election.

The original plan called for Futenma's facilities to be moved from a busy urban area to reclaimed land off a quiet Okinawan village, but some allies of Hatoyama want the air base removed entirely.

The United States opposes revisions to the deal, saying Futenma's facilities are a military necessity. The United States stations some 47,000 troops under a security alliance with Japan, which has been pacifist since World War II.

Webb's office said the senator, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party who represents Virginia, was a "strong proponent of the vital interests served by a healthy US-Japan relationship."

A former combat Marine, journalist and novelist, Webb has visited Japan throughout his career and once authored a study of the Japanese prison system.

As secretary of the navy, Webb in 1987 went to Okinawa to return the bell from Gokoku-ji Temple that had been taken to the United States by Commodore Matthew Perry, who pried open Japan after the nation's more than two centuries of self-imposed isolation.

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