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U.S. Ambassador wants base agreement honored

Date Posted: 2009-12-03

America’s ambassador to Japan visited Okinawa this week, telling everyone from the governor to the media that the 2006 Japan-U.S. Agreement must move forward without further delays.

Ambassador John Roos has told Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima “It’s the best and only viable option” for troop realignment, referring to the plan to close Futenma Marine Corps Air Station once a new airfield is constructed in northern Okinawa. The Japanese Prime Minister has been dragging his feet on supporting the agreement, which was inked during the previous administration governed by the Liberal Democratic Party. The LDP was ousted in August in a landslide by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan.

Hatoyama has brushed off making a decision on approving the project, saying at varying times since taking office a decision could take a few months, or even until next summer. He’s updated that thinking during a pair of meetings this week with Governor Nakaima in Tokyo, during which he assured the governor he “would not irresponsibly keep postponing a decision.” He’s told Nakaima he wants to find ways to reduce Okinawa’s burden of supporting American troops.

Roos, well aware of Hatoyama’s indecisiveness and talk of changing the relocation site, is walking the fine line as he deals with Japanese officials. He recognizes the frustration, but also knows the U.S. position is to move forward and get the new airfield at Henoko in the Nago City district complete by 2014. The Ambassador knows the new airfield is the sticking point on the larger Japan-U.S. agreement to move 8,000 Marines—a sizeable chunk of the 47,000 American troops in the country—off Okinawa to Guam.

The U.S. and Japan have a task force working group poring over the problem, with decisions or recommendations to be announced soon. The Futenma issue was largely skirted by American President Barack Obama during his Japan visit in November. The senior U.S. military official in the Pacific, Pacific Command Admiral Robert Willard, visited Tokyo this week to tell Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada Futenma is the key point in the entire realignment issue, and that it must be resolved quickly.

Okada, who has been recommending the Henoko plan be scrapped in favor of consolidating the Marine aircraft at Futenma on Kadena Air Base, is backing off. Okada says he hopes the whole issue will be resolved “by the end of the year”, but has given up on the idea of putting Marines on Kadena. Instead, he seems to now be favoring the Henoko plan.

Both U.S. and Japanese officials know well that the entire agreement must be put into action soon, or timelines on building infrastructure on Guam in anticipation of moving 8,000 Marines could be in danger. Equally important, observers say, failure by Prime Minister Hatoyama to promote the agreement—or at least offer a somewhat realistic alternative—could endanger, and put stress and mistrust into the Japan-U.S. relationship.


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