'It's done,' Rumsfeld says of troop realignment agreement for Okinawa
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Despite widespread opposition to the plan on Okinawa, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there will be no changes to the bilateral agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan.
And his firmness is seconded by Fukushiro Nukaga, Japan’s new Defense Agency chief.
The interim report was released last weekend in Washington by Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and their Japanese counterparts. It calls for replacing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a facility on Camp Schwab and slashing the Marine presence on Okinawa by 7,000 troops within six years. It also calls for the study of moving U.S. Marine bases on the island to northern Okinawa, closing the Naha Military Port, Camp Kinser and most of Camp Foster.
While Okinawa officials welcome plans to close Futenma, they are opposed to Camp Schwab as a location for Marine air operations, claiming an airport to be built on the part of the base that juts into Oura Wan Bay is not a viable alternative to the larger, sea-based airport that was originally planned.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine has said that if the airport can’t be used jointly by civilian aircraft, which is not part of the new plan, he doesn’t want it on Okinawa.
At a Pentagon press conference earlier this week, Rumsfeld ruled out any alternative to what is covered in the interim report.
“It is an arrangement that our two countries, our two governments have entered into,” he said. “It’s done. We have an agreement, we have an understanding. It’s in both of our interests.”
He said the agreement went a long way toward the goal of relieving Okinawa’s burden of hosting more than half the U.S. troops and 75 percent of the land used for U.S. bases in Japan.
“It ought to come as no surprise that somebody doesn’t like” provisions in the agreement, he added. “They are what they are. They’re bold, they’re new, they’re significant.”
The hard-line attitude was shared by Taro Aso, Japan’s new foreign minister, who told reporters in Tokyo that “what has been basically agreed will remain unchanged.”
Rumsfeld said he was looking forward to working with Nukaga, who replaced Defense chief Yoshinori Ohno during a cabinet shuffle by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi after the report came out. Nukaga, as the Liberal Democratic Party’s security panel chief, was involved in the realignment negotiations and was the official who suggested the Camp Schwab plan.
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo last week, Nukaga said Japanese citizens should understand they must shoulder “a certain level of the burden for the U.S. to ensure Japan’s security.”
Little such understanding was forthcoming from Okinawa officials who were recently briefed on the plan by Iwao Kitahara, director general of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.
Choichi Hentona, the mayor of Chatan, where camps Foster and Lester and part of Kadena Air Base are located, said he was pleased to see that F-15 training on Kadena would be moved to mainland Japan, but not too happy about joint use of the air base by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
“Joint use of the air base with the JASDF will lead to an increase in the operations of the air base,” Hentona said. “If such an additional burden is added by the change, it would never be acceptable.”
Yoshitami Oshiro, one of the three candidates running for Nago mayoral election in January, said the Schwab site — which extends into the shallow waters of Oura Wan Bay — would destroy valuable cultural artifacts. Also, the flight path would take helicopters over local schools, he added.
“Concentrating military bases in northern area on the island is absolutely unacceptable,” he said, vowing that the plan faces a bitter fight.