Japan: Realignment plan could use a few tweaks
NAHA, Okinawa — Japanese officials are considering making adjustments to the bilateral interim report on realigning U.S. troops in Japan.
During a news conference here Tuesday, Yuji Miyamoto, ambassador in charge of Okinawan affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the Oct. 29 interim agreement was a preliminary report and adjustments can be made before the final plan is adopted in March.
He declined to comment on what adjustments might make the plan more acceptable to Okinawans.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, contend the plan’s broad outline is solid and no major changes will be made.
The interim report calls for building a Marine air station on Camp Schwab, on reclaimed land and the area where barracks now stand overlooking Oura Wan Bay. The facility, in Okinawa’s rural north, is to replace urban Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
The agreement also calls for moving the III Marine Expeditionary Force command element to Guam and other Marines to mainland Japan. That would reduce the number of Marines stationed on Okinawa by 7,000 over the next six years, close bases on southern Okinawa and consolidate most remaining Marine operations to the northern camps.
Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine and other local officials oppose the Camp Schwab plan. Tokyo and U.S. officials have said moving troops off Okinawa and closing the southern bases depend on building the new airfield.
“Negotiations at the working level are still under way because it is obvious that there [is] still some work to be done on the final details,” Miyamoto said. For example, the names of the southern bases to be closed have yet to be announced officially.
The report states only that bases south of Kadena Air Base will be closed. The Naha Military Port, Camp Kinser, MCAS Futenma, Camp Foster and Camp Lester all are south of Kadena.
Miyamato said closing the southern bases hinged on replacing MCAS Futenma.
“The mutual understanding is that they are organically related,” he said. “However, the government will make its utmost effort to not let that happen. The Japanese government understands that the report was an interim (plan); therefore, we will continue negotiations with the U.S. side to make adjustments.”
Miyamoto was repeating the line expressed by Tara Aso, Japan’s new foreign minister, during his first official trip to Washington last weekend, meeting with U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Aso said he expressed the difficulty in winning acceptance of the interim report on Okinawa. He said Rice understood the difficulties.
In a later meeting with Rumsfeld, Aso again described gaining local acceptance of the plan as “extremely difficult.”
Rumsfeld acknowledged the dissent on Okinawa but assured Aso that the discussions were “moving along well.”
“There’s always going to be somebody who has questions,” Rumsfeld told reporters. “But I think we’ll sort all those things out.”