Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine makes a point during Wednesday’s press conference in Washington. Inamine is on a lobbying tour in an attempt to lessen U.S. troop presence on Okinawa.

Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine makes a point during Wednesday’s press conference in Washington. Inamine is on a lobbying tour in an attempt to lessen U.S. troop presence on Okinawa. (Joe Gromelski / S&S)

WASHINGTON — Top Okinawa government officials are launching a new campaign in an old fight to get all U.S. Marines off Japan’s southernmost island.

Okinawa governor Keiichi Inamine says he is “making a drastic new proposal” to the U.S. and Japanese governments as the two nations are reworking the details of their alliance. The proposal also comes as Pentagon leaders are trying to consolidate existing overseas bases and return tens of thousands of forward-based U.S. troops to American soil.

“This is a rare chance and a great opportunity, because the U.S. military is working on its worldwide posture review,” Inamine told reporters Wednesday during a lobbying tour of White House, Pentagon, State Department and congressional leaders.

The U.S. blitz comes in the wake of a similar effort by Inamine among top Japanese leaders in Tokyo.

Okinawans have long argued that they’ve shouldered an unfair proportion of the U.S. presence in Japan. With less than 1 percent of Japan’s land mass, the island provides 75 percent of the facilities used by U.S. forces in Japan. That includes some 50,000 troops and family members.

Following the 1995 rape of a Okinawan schoolgirl by two Marines and a sailor, a 1996 agreement between the two countries was designed to lift some of that burden. The Special Action Committee on Okinawa report, or SACO, centered on moving the Marine Corps’ Futenma air station to a new off-shore base. But nearly a decade later, haggling over exactly where the base will go has yielded little progress.

Inamine said he wants to scrap that agreement and shift to something much more comprehensive.

Flanked by Takeshi Onaga, the mayor of Okinawa’s capital and largest city, Naha, he said he is pushing a four-point proposal. Inamine wants to:

Remove all Marines. Marines occupy about 75 percent of the U.S. facilities there, and local officials say Marines are responsible for most accidents and crimes. Inamine is proposing that the Okinawa Marine Corps units now making their return to the island from Iraq “don’t come back.”Reduce noise at Kadena Air Base. Another facet of SACO included reducing noise at the Air Force’s main hub in the area, including limiting early morning and late night flights at the base, which is surrounded by homes. Little improvement has been seen on that front either, said Inamine. More must be done now, he said.Halt construction of a live-fire complex. The Army is building a live-fire complex at Camp Hansen. According to the text of Inamine’s proposal, the site is “barely 300 meters (330 yards) away from civilian homes and a national expressway.”Rewrite SOFA. The Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the rules U.S. troops must live by in Japan, is long overdue for an overhaul, said Inamine, calling for a “fundamental revision.” Forty-five years after the original SOFA was written, he argues in his proposal “there have been significant changes in the security environment and social conditions … the SOFA has become inconsistent with the demands of the times.”In Washington, the response was polite, but noncommittal.

“We thanked them for their input,” said Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Greg Hicks, after Inamine’s contingent met with Richard Lawless, the Defense Department’s deputy undersecretary for Asian and Pacific affairs.

Hicks said, however, that any negotiations regarding U.S. presence in Japan would be between the U.S. and Japanese governments — not local officials.

“This is between the policymakers, and we’re working with the government of Japan.”

Any sweeping changes on Okinawa, however, do not appear on the horizon.

“We remain committed to the steady implementation of SACO,” said Hicks.

In Japan, Hatsuhisa Takashima, the top spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said senior leaders are studying Inamine’s proposal — and with U.S. and Japanese officials now reworking their alliance — hinting there might be options for compromise.

“The bilateral talks are under way with the focus on reducing the burden shouldered by the local communities, including Okinawa, and maintaining deterrence,” said Takashima. “As for a request to revise the SOFA, the government stance is to make operational improvements to the agreement, while giving consideration to requests from local communities.”

Yoshinori Ohno, Japan’s defense minister, told reporters after Inamine’s visit to Tokyo on March 8 that moving the Marines off Okinawa must be weighed against regional security needs.

“This is an issue of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, the security of Japan and the security of the Far East,” he said. “Therefore, maintaining the deterrence power is very important.

“At the same time, there are calls for reducing the burden of hosting the military presence,” he added. “At issue is how to achieve the two goals.”

David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report from Okinawa.

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