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Marine Commandant hints realignment changes possible; Japan rejects comments

Date Posted: 2009-06-11

Marine Corps General James Conway says “we have modified plans for reorganization, and they deserve examination,” referring to the realignment agreement between Japan and the United States that calls for relocating 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, testifying before the United States Senate Military Affairs Committee, told the senators “The transfer of Marine Corps troops, or transfer of the Futenma Air Station plan will be very possible to look over again.” The 2006 realignment plan has been the topic of countless discussions, debates and disagreements, but Conway’s testimony marked the first time a senior U.S. leader spoke of changes.

Japan’s Vice Defense Minister was quick to bash the four-star general’s statements, saying his country sees no need to alter the realignment plan. Kohei Masuda responded to Conway’s thinking, saying “The realignment of U.S. Forces in Japan is a plan to be steadily implemented according to the road map agreed upon between Japan and the United States in 2006.”

While underscoring “this point has recently been confirmed” between the U.S. President, Barack Obama, and Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso, Masuda told reporters “The contents of Commandant Conway’s remarks, and where they are positioned inside the U.S. Government, are unclear.” On the local level, the American Consul General for Okinawa, Kevin Maher, reiterated there was no possibility of the road map being reviewed.

Conway said transferring 8,000 troops to Guam will “cost more than what we thought,” noting transfer expenses and training costs leave him “apprehensive for the training environment.” He said there was a need for “analysis and negotiate with Japan.” Conway told the Senate Armed Services Committee “we have some modifications (to the Futenma relocation plan) we think are worthy of consideration. The Futenma replacement facility has to e indeed a fully capable replacement for what we’re giving up.”

The May 2006 agreement between Japan and the U.S. raises “concerns about training opportunities on Guam, in the nearby islands, and the rest of the Asia-Pacific Basin,” Conway said, “so there are some things like that which we certainly want to see considered and negotiated as need be with the Japanese before we slap the table.” The Marines are supposed to be transferred to Guam by 2014.

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