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Japan offers U.S. a loan to pay for troop moves

Date Posted: 2006-02-24

The idea of getting US Marines off Okinawa sooner rather than later has reportedly triggered a Japanese offer to front the costs, but on a loan basis.

An agreement last Fall called for 7,000 Marines to relocate from the island to Guam, but the $8 billion price tag has caused Japanese lawmakers to blanche. Now, reports circulating through the Japanese capitol suggest the central government will offer to loan the United States the money necessary to make the moves happen quickly. The United States has steadfastly predicted such a massive troop move could take a decade or more to accomplish, because thereís a lot of construction and renovation of existing facilities that must happen.

Okinawans, irate over continuing crime and safety issues, want to see the Marines gone as quickly as possible. Reports over the past several weeks have suggested that a rapid move would overwhelm Guamís construction industry, which has roughly a $400 million annual capacity. To get the Marines moved more quickly would mean and infusion of more money, and more non-Guamanian construction companies.

The October plan, if signed in March and implemented, turns more regional security responsibilities for the Asia-Pacific Basin over to Japan. Japan hosts more than 50,000 U.S. troops now, including 14,700 Marines. Most of those Marines are on Okinawa. The same plan calls for relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Camp Schwab, and basing a nuclear powered aircraft carrier at Yokusuka for the first time. The Futenma relocation plan is also drawing heavy fire from local critics.

The U.S. has been hoping Japan would pick up most of the $8 billion cost for the move, but thatís proven a sticky issue with the Japanese Diet. The latest is the loan plan, but Defense officials are staying mum since the reports began surfacing. Sources close to the decision say there isnít even assurances on whether the U.S. would accept a loan from Japan, instead of outright grants.

U.S. troops have been in Japan and Okinawa since the end of World War II in 1945. Okinawa was under American control until 1972.

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