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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The United States and Japan should reach a formal agreement on realigning U.S. forces in Japan by year’s end, the two nations’ defense chiefs have stated.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Japanese Defense Minister Yoshinori Ohno didn’t discuss specifics. They stated, however, that a report on how the two nations will share regional security roles, including increased joint use of military facilities, will be released in late July.

To be settled by year’s end, they stated, are what bases are to be affected and whether U.S. troop strength on Okinawa — now 24,000 — will be reduced.

The two met on the sidelines of the Asia Security Conference in Singapore, a three-day conclave of Asian and Pacific-rim officials sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

A Defense Ministry spokesman said Monday that the United States and Japan agreed not to mention specific realignment plans, such as the names of bases to be involved, until Japan’s government has time to “obtain understanding and cooperation from the affected local communities.”

Japanese communities, reacting to media reports quoting unnamed Japanese officials, already have expressed opposition to any increase of U.S. forces in or near their locales. The reports stated the United States and Japan were seriously considering moving Marine helicopter units from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Kadena Air Base and transferring air refueling aircraft from the Futenma base to MCAS Iwakuni.

After the Singapore meeting, Ohno told reporters he rejected Rumsfeld’s suggestion that the interim report to be released in July should include concrete recommendations for moves.

“Although our meeting was brief, we reached an agreement to compile an interim report at the earliest possible time,” Ohno said, according to a Defense Ministry transcript of his news conference. He said he reminded Rumsfeld that reducing the burden of U.S. bases on Okinawa was a “subject of utmost importance.”

“In reply, Mr. Rumsfeld said that deterrence power is also important,” Ohno said. “He said that he would make an effort to reach an agreement while giving consideration to both issues.”

Ohno and Rumsfeld both stated that reducing the U.S. troop level on Okinawa still was being discussed, with the two sides attempting to balance regional security needs with concerns of Okinawans who object to hosting more than half the U.S. forces in Japan.

A Department of Defense release quoted Rumsfeld as saying when entering the weekend meeting that “without referring to a specific base, we feel our discussions with Japan on our posture in northeast Asia have been moving along well.”

Ohno said, “Various opinions have been exchanged and I mentioned that problems exist, especially on Okinawa. ... We must obtain the understanding and cooperation from the local authorities and residents of communities that are affected by the transformation. I told [Rumsfeld] that would require some time.”


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