Complex agreements at stake during Gates’ Asia visit
ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates is visiting Tokyo this week for a series of meetings with leaders of Japan’s newly elected government, which promptly raised the possibility of revising a far-reaching agreement to transform the U.S. military’s presence in the Pacific.
One senior defense official briefing reporters ahead of the trip described a “highly complex and complicated” pact between the U.S. and Japan that took 15 years to negotiate and was unlikely to survive heavy renegotiations. Among the critical and controversial elements of the plan are efforts to move operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Camp Schwab and to relocate 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam, a move to be largely funded by the Japanese government.
“You pull on one thread and you run the risk of the whole thing unraveling,” the official said.
Ahead of Gates’ ambitious Pacific trip, officials said they expected the secretary to tackle a variety of issues from the largest regional realignment of forces in 60 years to Japan’s changing contributions in the Afghanistan war to the defense of South Korea.
“We intend to make sure that America’s rock-solid, steadfast commitment to the security of our allies is plainly evident through these visits, especially in view of North Korea’s continued provocations,” said another senior defense official.
Gates left Washington on Sunday bound for Hawaii, where he will preside over Monday’s ceremony passing control of the Pacific Command from Adm. Timothy J. Keating to Adm. Robert F. Willard. The secretary then commences a weeklong blitz of high-level meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea, capped off with a NATO meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia.
He is the first U.S. cabinet member to meet with the new Japanese government and is expected to address the bilateral force realignment agreement. Already, some Japanese lawmakers are calling for changes, but U.S. officials have warned that significant alterations would threaten congressional funding.
Meanwhile last Tuesday, Minister of Defense Toshimi Kitazawa announced Japan will end its mission refueling coalition ships in the Indian Ocean supporting operations in Afghanistan.
“We will continue to talk about it but at the end the decision is Japan’s to make,” the first official said. “There are no specific requests on the table.”
Instead, Tokyo’s leaders have proposed greater monetary aid for Afghanistan, which the U.S. “would certainly support.”