U.S. Consul General backs military’s presence in Okinawa
NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Joel Ehrendreich, U.S. Consul General in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, emphasized Friday that U.S. military bases in the southernmost prefecture contribute to regional peace and stability.
“I firmly believe that our presence here makes both our countries safer and makes our region more stable and contributes to peace and prosperity,” Ehrendreich said in an interview.
“With increasing provocations from North Korea . . . we need to be ready to respond to any contingency and we have to anticipate what future threats may arise,” he said, referring to the reclusive country’s repeated nuclear tests and missile launches.
Ehrendreich also highlighted the U.S. military’s disaster relief activities and humanitarian support in Japan and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
The U.S. forces in Okinawa have conducted rescue operations in Fukushima in the disaster-stricken Tohoku region, Kumamoto and other prefectures hit by natural or man-made disasters, he stressed.
Fukushima is home to the aging Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant that was tipped into three core meltdowns by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Kumamoto was hit by a series of powerful earthquakes in April this year.
Ehrendreich said the United States treats Okinawan concerns about crime and accidents linked to U.S. bases “with utmost seriousness” and has taken preventive measures.
“As consul general, what I do not want is for these negative incidents to define” the Japan-U.S. relationship, he stressed.
“We have commitments in place to try to reduce our footprints here in Okinawa. We intend to live up to those commitments,” under the 1996 Japan-U.S. agreements made at the Special Action Committee on Okinawa, or SACO, Ehrendreich said.
He underscored that a variety of exchange events between the U.S. military and residents are highly evaluated and that such communications help to reinforce the bilateral relations.