Heading for Asia, Panetta is urged to solve Japan basing dispute
Published: October 20, 2011
WASHINGTON — Move quickly to solve the smoldering dispute over air bases on Okinawa, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb urged Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ahead of his first visit to Asia as secretary.
Panetta leaves Friday for high-level meetings with allies in Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
The Okinawa issue is expected to dominate talks in Tokyo, where, Webb said, U.S. basing is becoming an increasingly explosive internal political issue for Japan.
“[Our] failure to resolve the issue of American bases on Okinawa has resulted in a volatile political debate in Japan, the implications of which should not be under-estimated by American leaders,” Webb wrote. “It is in our national interest that this matter be resolved both quickly and smartly, for the well-being of our alliance and the stability of the region.”
Webb urged Panetta to follow recommendations he, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made months ago to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The recommendations included moving all flight activity from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma – the subject of a controversial expansion plan – to Kadena Air Base, also on Okinawa. Some activities from Kadena would meanwhile move to Guam.
A 2006 base realignment agreement is unlikely to solve the problems, he wrote:
“[There] are credible concerns that the provisions of the 2006 agreement between our two national governments are not capable of a timely, cost-effective, politically agreeable and strategically viable implementation.”