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U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine shake hands for the cameras during their brief meeting Sunday in Naha. Inamine gave Rumsfeld a petition requesting the reduction in the number of American troops and bases on Okinawa.
U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld and Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine shake hands for the cameras during their brief meeting Sunday in Naha. Inamine gave Rumsfeld a petition requesting the reduction in the number of American troops and bases on Okinawa. (David Allen / S&S)

NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said he hated to be rude Sunday during U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s first visit to Okinawa.

But Inamine said he had important points to make in the 30-minute meeting.

“This is the first time in 13 years that a U.S. defense secretary has visited Okinawa,” Inamine said. “I welcome your visit to Okinawa and hope you have the opportunity to see the reality of what the people of Okinawa have suffered from shouldering the heavy burden of the U.S. military presence.

“As you have seen today, the U.S. military bases occupy the most important parts of the island, impeding the economic development of Okinawa to a great extent,” the governor said. “Besides that, many people have suffered from problems stemming from the military presence. Resolving these problems is a very critical issue.”

Inamine and Prefectural Assembly President Kokichi Iramina gave Rumsfeld a petition identifying the following as major issues:

• The steady implementation of a 1996 U.S.-Japan agreement to reduce the U.S. base footprint by 20 percent, and a “further reduction and realignment of U.S. facilities on Okinawa in a planned and step-by-step manner.” U.S. bases cover about one-fifth of the island.

• Ensuring that the new Marine air station to be built on northern Okinawa is returned to Okinawa after 15 years.

• Relocating Marine training and exercises to other countries and reducing the number of Marines on Okinawa.

• Review of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement.

The petition also requests a ban on the Navy’s new low-frequency sonar, which environmentalists claim harms marine mammals.

“I hate to mention these difficult issues on your first visit to Okinawa,” Inamine said.

Rumsfeld said the United States is reviewing force and base structure worldwide, but he gave no details on Okinawa.

“We’re in the middle stage of the review,” he said. “I’m here on Okinawa to listen and to learn and to see firsthand what is taking place here.”

Rumsfeld said that test results he has seen on low-frequency sonar showed “there is little if any impact on marine mammals.”

Inamine’s comments were not all negative; he emphasized that Okinawans as a group are not anti-American and that he appreciates U.S. military support in providing volunteer public school English teachers and support for the Special Olympics and a new university graduate program.

“However, a further step-by-step reduction of the bases is very important to the Okinawan people,” he said.

“We are friendly people,” he said. “We have an old saying, ‘Ichariba Chode,’ which means, ‘Once we meet, we are all brothers and sisters.’

“Hospitality is what Okinawan people highly value,” Inamine said. “But there is a limit to our patience. Just too many things happened in the past 58 years. Each accident or incident may be an isolated event, but to the Okinawan people, they are all a part of the problems that have stemmed from the presence of the military on this island.”

“It is my understanding that the training levels and noise levels have declined rather dramatically,” Rumsfeld responded. “A great deal of effort has been used by our forces to minimize the impact [of the bases].”

He emphasized that the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty has meant decades of regional peace and “provided a great benefit to the people of both nations.”

“But I assure you that we’ve heard what you have had to say,” Rumsfeld said.

Following the meeting, a Japanese reporter told Inamine that Rumsfeld appeared displeased by his comments.

“I am fully aware that I used very strong words and that I was almost too rude to a guest,” Inamine said. “But I spoke for people of Okinawa. All I wanted was that he give his understanding to the situation on Okinawa. Candidly and single-mindedly, I conveyed to him the voice of the people of Okinawa.”

Rumsfeld was on the island Sunday as part of his Far East tour. He was in Tokyo on Friday and Saturday and flew into Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base on Sunday morning.

After lunch with about 70 servicemembers on Camp Foster, he took a quick U.S. base helicopter tour and then proceeded to Naha, the prefectural capital, for the Inamine meeting.

Rumsfeld then went to South Korea, where he planned to meet with senior government officials in Seoul on Monday and with U.S. troops on Tuesday, wrapping up his first Asia tour since becoming defense secretary in 2001.

Dozens of riot police were at the entrance of Yongsan Garrison in central Seoul where Rumsfeld arrived by helicopter Sunday evening, but there was no sign of protesters.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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