Official: U.S., Japan will delay Futenma relocation plan
WASHINGTON — After 15 years of controversy and deadlock — and now new pressures to rein in spending — U.S. and Japanese officials on Tuesday are expected to push back the timeline for relocating thousands of Marines stationed on Okinawa.
The announcement amounts to a concession that the larger realignment plan for U.S. military forces across the Pacific is unachievable.
“It does not take a math prodigy to look at the calendar, look at the original timelines that were laid out, look at the progress that’s been made and make a determination about what can and can’t be completed between now and 2014,” said a senior administration official briefing reporters Monday on the condition of anonymity. “So I think you can expect to [see] coming out of the meeting [Tuesday] a readjustment of the timeline going forward in a way that is more realistic and that will allow us to achieve our joint and mutual goals.”
The current plan would relocate 8,000 Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam, move air operations away from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and consolidate several U.S. bases in South Korea. Okinawans have protested several iterations of the plan. Pentagon officials have said delaying any part of the complicated arrangement would be like tugging on a string that would unravel the entire plan.
“The fact of the matter is that it will be hard to resolve this by 2014,” Japan’s Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told The New York Times in Monday editions.
The U.S. official would not say if the agreement would include hard dates to be met, deferring to joint statements expected Tuesday from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Gates and Clinton were scheduled to meet with their Japanese counterparts Monday and Tuesday in the first U.S.-Japan summit since the March earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown.The cost of that disaster, estimated at $300 billion, has provided new political impetus to question the already-troubled military basing plan, which has faced constant strong opposition in Japan.
The meetings kick off Monday night with a formal dinner for the visitors.
Outside of the military, there is usually little focus in Washington on Pacific military bases. But the realignment plan came under new scrutiny from Armed Services Committee leaders Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and retiring Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a former Navy secretary. Levin and Webb toured the Pacific in May, emerging with strong doubt the current plan was workable. The committee on Thursday passed a bill that would ban funds for the move to Guam until the Marines study the issue anew.
The senators called for new looks at moving some Futenma assets to Kadena Air Base instead of building new facilities at Camp Schwab, and moving more Kadena assets off the island for a net reduction, while also seeking to halt the process to allow families to join troops serving tours in South Korea.