TOKYO, Japan — A top U.S. diplomat in Asia on Friday toned down a no-more-negotiations stance the Pentagon has taken in response to the newly elected Japanese government’s interest in changing the military realignment plan.
“It’s a careful path we have to walk, but by issuing dictates or saying certain things are impossible [and] can’t be talked about, I think that could lead to exactly the kind of the backlash that all seek to avoid,” Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell told reporters following two days of talks with new Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. “On the U.S. side, we want to demonstrate patience and a commitment to listen.”
Part of the 2006 plan includes moving 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and shutting down Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and replacing it with another elsewhere on Okinawa. But residents there do not want another air base on the island, a position which has been embraced by many in new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government.
U.S. and Japanese officials will continue talks over the next two months on that and a variety of other issues — from Japan’s assistance in the war on terror to reining in North Korea’s nuclear threat, said Campbell, who oversees East Asian and Pacific affairs for the State Department.
Hatoyama’s government also wants to end its naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean in support of the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Okada was appointed shortly after Hatoyama took office Wednesday following the Democratic Party of Japan’s resounding victory in parliamentary elections last month.
Okada has said he wants to review the status of U.S. troops based in Japan under a pact in which the United States provides security for Japan in return for it funding a majority of the cost of the military infrastructure in the country.
“We have issues that still need to be addressed, but I’m committed to deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance to make it sustainable for 30 years, 50 years or even longer,” Okada was quoted Friday by The Associated Press.
Campbell said this week’s initial round of discussions and those over the next few weeks would help establish the framework for talks between Hatoyama and President Barack Obama in Tokyo in November. The two leaders also are expected to meet Wednesday at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is expected to meet with Japanese defense officials in October.
Along with developing ways to reinvigorate the “six-party talks” between the United States, Japan, the two Koreas, China and Russia aimed at defusing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Campbell said “comprehensive dialogue of nuclear issues” should be a topic of high priority for the changing U.S.-Japan alliance.
But at Friday night’s news conference, Campbell declined to elaborate on a secret 1960s-era deal between the two countries that reportedly allowed U.S. military aircraft and warships carrying nuclear weapons into Japanese ports without prior consent.
“Documents from the United States have been made available that paint a fairly clear picture of the history associated with agreements between the United States and Japan. ... And those documents essentially speak for themselves,” he said. “We won’t have more to add on that publicly.”
Nuclear arms issues are extremely sensitive in Japan, which toward the end of World War II became the first and remains the only nation to have suffered a nuclear attack.
Japan’s previous governments under the Liberal Democrats denied a secret deal, but some bureaucrats have recently acknowledged it, prompting Hatoyama’s new government to launch a full investigation, according to the AP.