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New U.S.-Japan accord to speed up realignment

Date Posted: 2009-02-12

Hillary Clinton, on her first outing as the U.S. Secretary of State, is expected to sign a new U.S. ~ Japan accord strengthening President Barack Obamaís commitment on realigning American troops and bases in Japan, when she arrives in Tokyo February 16th.

Hirofuni Nakasone, Japanís Foreign Minister, and Clinton are to sign the new agreement, which gives Japan some leverage in expediting the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station move from Ginowan City to Camp Schwab in Nago Cityís jurisdiction. The new accord, a much stronger document than the 2006 agreement between the two nations, would then go to the Diet for ratification.

In essence, the Foreign Ministry explains, the new accord ďis an agreement equivalent to a treaty,Ē a much stronger document than a mere political paper. Approval by the Diet would make it a legally binding and enforceable document that gives the central government more muscle in implementing the realignment.

Moving Futenma is instrumental to the realignment plan that ultimately calls for 8,000 U.S. Marines being shifted from Okinawa to Guam. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima and his Okinawa Prefecture administration have demanded changes to the Henoko plan, calling for runways to be moved farther off the coast before he endorses it. Both Japan and the United States have refused to consider changing the 2006 agreement to accommodate Nakaima. The new airfield is to be completed by 2014, in order for the remainder of the realignment to move forward.

The Marinesí move is already facing timeline difficulties, as well as political and financial challenges from the Democratic party of Japan and other opposition parties that arenít pleased with Japanís decision to fund a •6 billion of the relocation costs. Opposition politicians say itís too expensive for Japan. Other opponents are insisting that Japan should only fund the deal if Japanese construction companies are brought in to Guam to participate in the infrastructure construction projects.

The militaryís top leader in the Pacific, Admiral Timothy Keating, meanwhile, has told Reuterís that timelines for the relocation project are skewe, and will ďbe more expensiveĒ than previously thought. Keating, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, predicts the realignment could take a decade or more to complete, a much longer time than the projected 2014 time frame. The four-star admiral says thereís simply not enough money available in U.S. and Japan budgets to permit a rapid development project.

Japanís Ministry of Defense isnít joining in the negative talk. A spokesman says the project is still moving forward in a timely fashion, noting that •35.3 billion ($405.8 million), has been allocated toward the project in the fiscal year beginning April 1st.

The realignment, once completed, would be followed by the U.S. returning Camp Kinser, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa and Camp Lester, and a sizeable chunk of Camp Foster.

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