Officials expect plan for realignment of U.S. troops in Japan to be ready in April
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan likely will be completed in early April, comments from U.S. and Japanese officials indicate, regardless of reaction from affected communities.
Japan Defense Agency Chief Fukushiro Nukaga and Foreign Minister Taro Aso will visit Washington April 1-2 to sign a pact reached in October to cut U.S. troop strength on Okinawa and relocate a carrier air wing from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japanese government sources said Wednesday.
In Washington on Tuesday, U.S. Pacific Commander William Fallon confirmed that working-level negotiations in Hawaii on the implementation details “are nearing conclusion, with an agreed implementation plan expected by 30 March.”
In written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Fallon said the Defense Policy Review Initiative pact “assessed the security environment in the region and bilaterally determined the required roles, missions, capabilities, and force structure.”
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also indicated Tuesday that realignment plans were almost set.
“It’s a final report … that we’ve negotiated out with the government of Japan,” he said at a news conference.
Japanese officials, he said, will “work with their local communities to sort things out — the details. … Not to worry. It will be fine. It will all work out.”
While acknowledging that several thousand people attended a rally in Okinawa on Sunday to oppose the plan, he downplayed the event’s significance.
“If you’ve got millions of people in a country,” Rumsfeld said, “there are always going to be different views. … You expect that. That’s what democracy’s about.”
The Japanese government “has made a decision,” he said. “There will be people who will agree with it and people who don’t agree with it. … Life goes on.”
Iwakuni city plans a nonbinding vote Sunday on the carrier air wing move, and Okinawa officials have on several occasions objected to the realignment plan’s call to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a new facility to be built in northeast Okinawa.
But in Tokyo, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe also stated that the plan would be made final without consent from local communities.
“It would of course be good to obtain consent from local communities as early as possible," Abe said at a news conference on Monday.
He expanded on those remarks on Tuesday, saying: “The government is presently engaging in discussion with local communities. Meanwhile, bilateral talks are under way on some items yet to be finalized. … Once it is finalized, we will talk to local communities with good faith to obtain their understanding.”
It’s not what Okinawa officials wanted to hear.
“We understood that the government would give consideration to opinions of local communities and reflect them (in) a final report,” said Yoritaka Hanashiro, director general of Gov. Keiichi Inamine’s Executive Office.
“If they come to explain to us with what has already been decided,” Hanashiro said, “the meaning is totally different.”