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US, Japan committed to Okinawa base move: Campbell

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) May 22, 2011
A top US diplomat on Sunday underlined Washington's commitment to relocating an unpopular military base within Japan's southern Okinawa island, brushing aside calls to freeze the plan.

A group of influential US senators urged the White House earlier this month to reconsider plans to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, saying Tokyo needed to focus on rebuilding from the March 11 quake and tsunami.

But Kurt Campbell, Washington's assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a news conference the US planned to go ahead with the move.

"It's extraordinarily important for the United States and Japan to take steps to ease the burden on the people of Okinawa, both in terms of operations and in terms of bases, and I think we have done that and would like to do more," Campbell said.

Tokyo and Washington have squabbled since 2009 over the fate of the base, where locals have long complained of aircraft noise, the risk of accidents, and crime associated with the base.

The dispute helped to bring down former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama who mused openly about moving the base off the island then backtracked to appease Washington, which says the base has crucial strategic value.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has promised to relocate Futenma, as originally agreed with Washington in a 2006 pact, from a crowded urban area to the quieter rural town of Henoko in Okinawa, despite strong local opposition.

Campbell was in Tokyo to meet Japanese officials ahead of the next ministerial security talks to be held in Washington, at a date yet to be announced.

The two countries are expected to reaffirm the relocation plan for the US Marine base while agreeing to postpone the 2014 deadline for completing it in "two-plus-two" talks involving the US and Japanese foreign and defence ministers.

US President Barack Obama will meet Kan on the sidelines of next week's G8 summit in France, to discuss the aftermath of the earthquake-tsunami tragedy.

Officials said Obama would discuss US cooperation with Japan after the devastating March 11 disaster -- which left nearly 25,000 dead or missing and sparked the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years.

"I think we recognise that this isn't a short term crisis -- this is something that is going to require a strong commitment on the part of the United States to support Japan and support the Japanese government for months and years ahead," Campbell said.

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