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US poised to withdraw 4,700 Marines from Japan
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 8, 2012

The United States is to shift 4,700 Marines from Okinawa to Guam without waiting for progress on controversial plans to relocate a US base on the Japanese island, it was expected to be announced Wednesday.

The redeployment was originally planned to take place in tandem with the shuttering of the base at Futenma, a crowded urban area, and the opening of a new facility in a sparsely populated coastal zone.

But Washington has become increasingly frustrated by Japanese foot-dragging on the issue, which has dominated Okinawan public life for years.

A formal announcement that Washington will go ahead with the redeployment is expected later Wednesday following talks in Washington between senior representatives from each government, two US officials told AFP.

Under a 2006 plan the United States and Japan agreed 8,000 Marines would leave the tropical Japanese archipelago, bound for the American territory of Guam.

At the same time Marine Corps Air Station Futenma would close and a new facility would be built at Henoko on the east coast.

But many Okinawans, angry at decades of shouldering the burden of more than half of the around 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan, are opposed to the plan and say other parts of the country should play host.

The expected announcement could cause problems for Tokyo, which was touting the reduction in troop numbers as a carrot to get Okinawans to accept the unpopular base move.

"What we're looking to do is de-link the movement of forces to Guam and the Futenma replacement facility," one US defence official said.

By scaling back the US military footprint, "it will reduce some of the stress" on Okinawa, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

US defence officials and military officers said they could not confirm earlier Japanese reports that a further 3,300 Marines would be redeployed to other countries in Asia.

On Wednesday the Yomiuri and the Asahi newspapers said Tokyo was resisting a US plan to send some Marines to an existing facility in Iwakuni in western Japan, while Washington was also eyeing redeployments to Australia, Hawaii, the Philippines or South Korea.

The Yomiuri said the new plan would also include the return of some other US military sites in southern Okinawa, moves that could help assuage anger among voters on the island chain.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told parliament on Wednesday he had no intention of abandoning the plan to close Futenma.

"We definitely have to avoid fixing the site of the Futenma air base at the current place. There's no change in our plans to relocate the base to Henoko," he said.


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US to downsize Iraq embassy
Washington (AFP) Feb 7, 2012 - The United States said Tuesday that it planned to downsize its embassy in Iraq, the largest US diplomatic mission in the world, in hopes of saving money after the end of the war.

The New York Times, quoting unnamed officials, said the United States would slash the 16,000-strong staff by up to half in a sign of declining influence and quality of life after US troops left in late 2011.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined comment on the article's specifics but confirmed that the United States was looking to "right-size" the enormous embassy in Baghdad.

"I think what we have here is an embassy structure that was built for a different time and that relied a lot on extensive contracting for a whole range of reasons, some of them historic, some of them security-related," Nuland told reporters.

"Our judgment now is that we can adapt that for today's Iraq, do our diplomatic business just as well and just as rigorously, but far more efficiently," she said.

Nuland said the United States would look at hiring more Iraqi employees at the embassy and using fewer contractors, who can be "very expensive."

The move marks a major change in planning for the State Department. US Ambassador James Jeffrey less than a year ago outlined plans to boost the size of the embassy in preparation for the departure of troops and the expected growing influence of neighboring Iran.

President Barack Obama, an opponent of the controversial 2003 invasion that ousted strongman Saddam Hussein, removed the last US troops after Iraq did not agree to plans to keep a residual force.

The New York Times said US diplomats have since been facing lengthy delays in approval for visas and have been struggling to arrange appointments with officials in Iraq, which has been mired in political crisis.

The newspaper also said that diplomats' living conditions had deteriorated without the troops, with the embassy running short of sugar for coffee and being forced to ration chicken wings enjoyed by some staff.

Asked about the newspaper's account of food conditions, Nuland criticized "whinging that was inappropriate" by some diplomats posted in Baghdad.


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Aerospace, defense deals reach record
New York (UPI) Feb 7, 2012
Global aerospace and defense business reached record levels in 2011, up from $22 billion in 2010 to $44 billion, despite fears it could turn out to be a bad year overall for the industry, latest data indicated. Most fears were based on reports of a decline in defense acquisitions, which did happen but was more than offset by an aerospace boom that seems set to continue this year. ... read more

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