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NAHA, Okinawa — Tokyo’s special minister to Okinawa said Wednesday he hopes ongoing talks between the United States and Japan will result in reducing U.S. troops on the island, but he characterized barriers to that happening as “huge.”

And like many Japanese officials commenting on this issue, Yuji Miyamoto, Okinawan affairs ambassador with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was short on the details. He said nothing has been made final.

During his regular monthly news conference in Naha, Miyamoto was pressed to respond to last weekend’s Singapore meeting between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Japanese Defense Minister Yoshinori Ohno. They agreed a final report on realigning U.S. forces in Japan should be released by year’s end. They also agreed an interim report, on sharing regional security roles and some bases, should be released by the end of July.

Rumsfeld and Ohno agreed that Okinawa’s burden should be reduced. With about 24,000 troops stationed on the U.S. bases that cover about a fifth of the island, Okinawa now hosts more than half of the U.S. troops in Japan.

But the two emphasized any realignment must be balanced by the need to maintain regional security.

“My hope is that the realignment takes place in a form of bringing reduction in the burden of Okinawa,” Miyamoto said. “However, I feel that the obstacles are huge.”

He did not elaborate.

Japanese news reports have quoted unnamed defense officials as declaring that building a new airport in northeast Okinawa, to replace the Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma, is stalled hopelessly. An alternate proposal, to move Marine helicopter units to Kadena Air Base, is being considered, the news reports stated, quoting the unnamed officials.

“I must refrain from touching on the subject while it is involved in the context of the ongoing negotiations,” Miyamoto said.


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