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Marines’ Futenma, Guam moves gain momentum

Date Posted: 2009-02-18

Proclaiming the Japan ~ U.S. alliance is strong, Hillary Clinton and Hirofumi Nakasone Tuesday upgraded a deal spelling out the relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa as a first step toward shifting 8,000 Marines to Guam.

Clinton, making her first overseas trip as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, joined with Japan’s Foreign Minister Nakasone, to breathe new life into the 2006 agreement calling for Futenma to be moved to Camp Schwab, where a new airfield with two V-shape runways is to be built. The new agreement is akin to a treaty, with full backing of Japanese law once ratified by the Diet.

Okinawa Prefecture and local leaders have balked at some elements of the realignment plan, despite knowing the airfield is the key to relocating 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam. Governor Hirokazu Nakaima wants the runways moved farther into Oura Bay, a concept both U.S. and Japanese officials have firmly rejected. Environmentalists are opposed, too, and political opposition remains.

“This agreement reflects the commitment we have to modernize our military posture in the Pacific,” Clinton explained at the signing in Tokyo. “It reinforces the core of our alliance and the mission of defending Japan against attack, deterring any attack by all necessary means.” Of the 23,000 U.S. troops on Okinawa, 13,000 are Marines. A proposal to build the new airfield at Camp Schwab would result in Marines being moved to Guam in 2014, with the Japanese government picking up at least $15 billion of the tag for building new facilities in Guam, and for the moves themselves.

Nakasone says “this Guam agreement shows the strength of our alliance,” and has pledged to “work toward implementation of the 2006 pact in a way that does not compromise readiness or capabilities.” The agreement puts legal muscle into Japan’s paying for the relocation.

Opposition lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan is expected to oppose the Guam International Agreement. At the moment, the DPJ is unlikely to marshal enough votes to block the ratification, and party officials say they’ll continue to seek ways to stop Japan from being in Washington’s hip pocket.

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