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US: Troops' move depends on Japan

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 17, 2011
A US military commander on Thursday pressed for Japan to decide soon over a controversial military base, suggesting that the pullout of some 8,000 troops may be delayed without progress.

The United States and Japan have squabbled for years over the Futenma air base, which was set up in 1945 on the southern island of Okinawa but now lies in a densely populated area where many neighbors resent the noise.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, which covers Asia, said the United States was committed to a 2006 plan to move the base to another part of Okinawa and also shift 8,000 Marines to the US territory of Guam.

But asked if the move to Guam would go ahead in 2014 as initially planned, Willard said: "I think the timeline is very much dependent on both nations' actions."

"The Japanese right now, with regard to the issues in Okinawa, are an important factor in that and we were slowed down by the actions last year," Willard told a luncheon of the Asia Society in Washington.

"We continue to work this as fast as the governments will allow," he said.

Willard spoke a day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that he hoped for progress on the Futenma air base by spring. Japan responded that it was seeking support from Okinawans and that deadlines would not be helpful.

Japan in 2009 ended a half-century of nearly uninterrupted conservative rule. The new center-left government clashed with Washington by calling for a rengotiation of the 2006 deal, responding to calls by Okinawan activists for the base to leave Japan entirely.

The feud led to the resignation last year of Yukio Hatoyama as prime minister. Current Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to go ahead with the original plan but his weak position in parliament means he may need support from an anti-base leftist party.

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