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US Pushes Japan To Break Deadlock Over Relocation Of Air Base

Koizumi will soon need to make several critical decisions on the future of America's military presence in Japan

Washington (AFP) Sep 30, 2005
The United States prodded Japan Thursday to break a deadlock over the relocation of a key US air base so that an accord on the realignment of American troops in Japan could be forged by November when President George W. Bush visits the country.

The relocation of the Futenma Air Base in the southern Japanese island chain of Okinawa is at the center of prolonged negotiations under what is being proposed as a defense transformation realignment pact between the United States and its top ally in Asia.

A senior Pentagon official involved in the negotiations told reporters that to break the deadlock, Japan should consider the overall interest of its half a century military alliance with the United States.

"The replacement of the Futenma capability is an alliance issue, not an American issue. It is an alliance issue," stressed Richard Lawless, the deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs.

He said the United States had rejected a Japanese relocation proposal but did not give details.

It is believed that the Japanese wanted to shift the Futenma operations inside Camp Schwaba, a major US Marine base in the Okinawa city of Nago.

The Americans sought a smaller facility inside a reef in Henoko district, also in Nago.

"We have made our feelings known. We have asked for more information but at the present time, the opportunity that we're being offered by the Japanese government is not acceptable to us, so the discussions are continuing," Lawless said.

He said both sides knew that "it is absolutely essential" to find a solution based on a promise made by Japan nine years ago -- "something that is of quality replacement that allows us to sustain that presence for the alliance.

"That is why we are saying to the Japanese government -- you undertook this obligation in 1996 to replace Futenma, we've been waiting. "It is not our fault, we want you to help us replace Futenma for the benefit of the alliance because the alliance needs this capability, as simple as that," Lawless told reporters after testifying in the US Senate on US-Japan relations.

Okinawa, which accounts for less than one percent of Japan's land mass, remains the base for 65 percent of the 40,500 US troops in the country, and is next to the potential conflict area of the Taiwan Strait.

Okinawa sees frequent protests against the US troops, who are stationed in officially pacifist Japan by treaty, blaming them for noise and crime.

Lawless defended the US option, saying it "gives us more in the way of capabilities."

He said the issue must be resolved by November through an interim report containing an "agreement in principles" on all the major issues -- including military "roles, missions, capabilities as well as realignment" of American troops in Japan.

"We would like to have it done in an October/November time frame and the final report done no later than four to six months," he said. "That would suggest that we finish everything up no later than in Spring.

"We can't have an agreement on the major principles without resolving the Futenma issue," he said.

President Bush is widely expected to visit Japan in the middle of November before attending a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on November 18-19.

Relations between Japan and the United States have strengthened considerably since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi took office just after Bush was elected to his first term in office in 2000. The two key pending bilateral issues are Japan's reluctance to lift a 21-month-old ban on US beef imports, and the relocation of the air base.

Aside from providing logistics support to US troops in Iraq, Japan is a key participant in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative and is involved in a US ballistic missile defense project.

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Corridors Of Power: Return Of Diplomacy
Washington (UPI) Sep 27, 2005
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