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Japan lodges protest with U.S. over remarks on Okinawa

Date Posted: 2011-03-13

Japan has lodged an official protest with the United States over derogatory remarks about Okinawans allegedly made recently by a U.S. official, even as a decision is made to continue with talks scheduled between the two nations over resolving the long-standing debate over where to relocate an American airbase in the southern prefecture.

If the reported remarks are true, they are inappropriate, regardless of whether the official spoke on or off the record, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said in telephone talks with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, separately speaking to reporters, said it is extremely regrettable if the reports are true.

The comments by the Japanese leaders followed reports that Kevin Maher, director of the U.S. Department of State's Japan office, last year called Okinawans "masters of extortion" of the Japanese government. In response to the protest from Edano, Roos expressed his strong regret that the reports have caused offense in Okinawa. The alleged remarks do not reflect U.S. government policy, Roos said, adding that Washington will do all it can to resolve the issue.

Roos was unclear, however, whether the alleged remarks were actually made. Following the conversation, Edano said at a news conference that he thinks Washington will take appropriate measures.

The furor caused by Maherís remarks has not put a damper on working-level security talks between Japan and the United States starting today. The Japanese Foreign Ministry says the two nations will discuss a stalled plan to transfer the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma air station in Okinawa, and new common strategic goals to be used as guidelines for bilateral security cooperation. The talks are designed to lay the groundwork for a ministerial session expected to take place in May.

Japanese delegates to Thursday's meeting will include Kazuyoshi Umemoto, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, and Nobushige Takamizawa, director-general of the Defense Ministry's Defense Policy Bureau. The U.S. side will be led by Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific affairs, and Wallace Gregson, formerly the U.S. militaryís top general on Okinawa as commander III Marine Expeditionary Force, and now Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.

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