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Money, Futenma issues block realignment accord

Date Posted: 2006-04-01

A pair of contentious issues are standing in the way of finalizing an agreement to radically realign U.S. military forces and installations in Japan.

Talks between the two governments are deadlocked, and most observers forecast no deal will be signed before early April. Japan, to get the agreement signed tomorrow, the March 31st self-imposed deadline, would most likely have to make major concessions to the U.S. side.

The U.S. and Japan were to this week sign an agreement to shuffle American bases and troops in—and out of--the country, but questions of who will pick up the $10 billion cost sticker and how will obstacles to moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa stand in the way. Nago City officials continue their steadfast opposition to having the new airfield in its backyard without modifications to design plans, and Japan is balking at demands it pay 75% of the relocation costs.

Under the realignment plan decided last October, the U.S. would move 8,000 Marines off Okinawa to Guam, and switch other Okinawa military assets to mainland Japan. That plan appeared on fairly solid ground until the cost figures became public.

Japan is saying it can shoulder half the burden, about $5 billion, but officials this week are using a $3 billion number in public. Washington wants Tokyo to cough up 75% of the cost since the move would benefit Japan, easing tensions about Okinawa’s disproportionate share of hosting American troops.

A key member of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party says giving in to the American demands “would force us to bear a heavy burden”. Taku Yamasaki, who is well known as a specialist on defense matters, says he wants to see the 8,000 Marines move from Okinawa, but says Japan’s economy simply cannot cover the costs.

Meanwhile, more than half the Japanese polled about the matter say its government should not be picking up the costs. A survey by Kyodo News found that 51.3% of respondents feel “Japan should not bear any funds at all” or “should not bear too much”.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe says he’s still hopeful for an agreement soon, but acknowledges there are still issues to be settled. Talks are scheduled for today and tomorrow.

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