Japanese diplomat: Talks in Washington key to realignment details
NAHA — Japan’s special ambassador to Okinawa says talks in Washington next week will be the key in completing details for a plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan.
The senior working-level talks are to be held Monday and Tuesday in Washington, said Toshinori Shigeie, Ambassador in Charge of Okinawan Affairs for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Speaking to reporters at his Naha office, Shigeie said negotiations between the two governments has come to a “final phase.”
The major sticking point — now that Okinawa communities have accepted a plan to relocate Marine Corps air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new facility to be built on Camp Schwab — seems to be how much Japan will pay to transfer some 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, most of them to Guam.
“How soon the [realignment] plan is finalized depends largely on how the meeting in Washington goes,” Shigeie said, noting one deadline has already passed. “It should have been completed at the end of March,” he said. “Both governments understand the need to come to an agreement at the earliest possible time.”
Before next week’s meeting, Japanese Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga planned to travel to Washington on Friday to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Kyodo News reported late Thursday.
Citing unnamed sources, the news agency said Nukaga plans to meet with Rumsfeld in hopes of breaking the moving-costs deadlock before the senior-level talks scheduled for Monday.
Meanwhile, Shigeie said, the national government will continue efforts to obtain understanding and support from local communities affected by the realignment plan and the changes it will bring to the island.
“It is important to achieve our goal of reducing the burden of Okinawa as early as possible,” he said. “It is our shared awareness that Futenma air station must be closed and relocated elsewhere as quickly as possible.”
Shigeie stressed that one important boon to Okinawa will be the closing of U.S. bases south of Kadena Air Base, including Camp Kinser.
“It is an issue just as important as the relocation of Futenma air station,” he said, refusing to go into any details concerning what bases would be closed or a timetable.