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Defense Minister’s comments irritate Washington

Date Posted: 2007-02-01

A seemingly anti-American flavor to a couple of comments by Japan’s Defense Minister is further stirring the Futenma replacement airfield issue on Okinawa.

Fumio Kyuma took aim at the U.S. government over the weekend, charging America with a lack of understanding about dealing with the Okinawa Prefecture government on replacing the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station. His criticism came only days after he made a pointed attack on U.S. President George W. Bush, calling his decision to invade Iraq a mistake “based on an assumption that weapons of mass destruction existed”.

The stinging remark came only hours after President Bush made his State of the Union address in Washington D.C. Speaking to the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, Kyuma spoke out against the U.S. invasion. Japan supported the American invasion, and sent troops to support the coalition in Iraq as well.

Diplomatic reaction was quick in coming, with the U.S. State Department’s Japanese Affairs Department lodging a complaint with the Japanese Embassy.

Japanese news media widely reported the response, with both Mainichi and Japan Times offering coverage of the Defense Minister’s actions, and his half-hearted agreement to be quiet in the hours after criticizing President Bush. The Japanese government was silent through the weekend, offering no statements on Kyuma’s behalf.

Kyuma, in his second tongue lashing of America during a speech in Nagasaki Prefecture, criticized the U.S. position on Okinawa. ”America says the bilateral agreement of last May should be implemented now that the two governments have made a decision between themselves,” he said, “but we can’t do it without the support of Okinawa’s governor.” He was noting the requirement for Hirokazu Nakaima, the newly elected governor, to sign off on land reclamation necessary to construct the new airfield’s runways in Oura Bay.

“The U.S. doesn’t understand spadework,” he said, trying to explain how America “doesn’t understand matters” pertaining to the process of relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa. Plans agreed to last year call for building two 1,800-meter runways in a V-shape in the Nago area, at Camp Schwab, with the runways protruding into the bay.

Kyuma’s remarks have spawned suggestions he could be responsible for blocking the next round of Japan-U.S. Ministerial Talks set for early next year. Both he and the Foreign Minister are supposed to meet with American Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but some observers say the talks could be derailed at least temporarily by Kyuma’s attitude.

State Department official James Zumwalt has suggested future talks could be difficult to arrange if Kyuma makes further negative remarks about President Bush. The next talks, commonly referred to as the two-plus-two security meetings, have not been scheduled. The last talks were May 2006.

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