CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — At an unscheduled, half-hour meeting Tuesday night with Douglas Feith, U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine stressed the need to reduce the U.S. military footprint on Okinawa.

Tuesday’s meeting was arranged at the last minute, according to Okinawa officials, who said they were glad Feith found the time to see them during his whirlwind one-day tour of the island’s bases.

“We are grateful to Undersecretary Feith for sparing his time for us in his tight itinerary,” said Reiji Fumoto, director of the governor’s office.

“Before meeting the governor, the undersecretary observed the military facilities on Okinawa from a helicopter,” Fumoto said. “Also, he has read a written request that the governor submitted to the Overseas Basing Commission. Based on the observation and acknowledgements, the undersecretary told us that he is fully aware of Okinawa’s concerns. We believe the undersecretary took seriously the governor’s request.”

During the meeting, which included Okinawa Area Coordinator Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman and U.S. Consulate General Thomas Reich, Inamine said “removing the danger posed” by the Marine Corps Air Station was of the “utmost importance.”

In the wake of the Aug. 13 crash of a Marine helicopter on a university campus adjacent to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, Okinawa officials have called for the immediate closure of the air station, located in the heart of urban Ginowan.

A bilateral agreement reached in 1996 called for closing the base within seven years, but only if an alternate site for Marine air operations could be found on Okinawa. A new base is planned for the waters off Okinawa’s rural northeast shore, but construction has not yet begun and it could be a decade or more before it is built, according to Japanese officials.

“The governor said that progress must be made in visible ways and, from that standpoint, removing the danger posed by Futenma air station is imminently important,” Fumoto said. “We want to see the coming realignment of U.S. forces in the Pacific result in reducing the burden of Okinawa in a visible way.”

U.S. bases on Okinawa cover about a fifth of the island and about 75 percent of the land allocated for the sole use of the U.S. military in Japan is located here. Slightly more than half of the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan are based on Okinawa.

“The meeting between the governor and the undersecretary was a great opportunity to convey the thoughts and wishes of Okinawa directly to the undersecretary,” Fumoto said. “There is a big difference in face-to-face contact and merely reading a written statement.”

Fumoto said Feith told Inamine that U.S.-Japan relations are extremely important.

Feith’s trip to Japan was “to gain local perspectives from U.S. military commanders on U.S. strategic global force posture and to attend bilateral meetings with Japanese officials,” said a Marine Corps spokesman on Okinawa.

Marine 2nd. Lt. Eric Tausch said Feith spent a day on Okinawa visiting Kadena Air Base and Futenma “for discussions with base leaders, and to meet troops and tour facilities.”

Feith’s next stop was Guam, which is seeing an increase in presence of U.S. troops.

During a brief news conference Wednesday on Guam, he said the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty was an important part of securing the peace in the Pacific.

“The Asia-Pacific region is increasingly important and we have an interest in increasing our capabilities … in fulfilling our commitment to allies and protecting our security,” he said, according to the Pacific Daily News. “So, we’ve been looking at various ways to make sure that we have the capabilities in place to do the kinds of military operations that are going to be required of the coming decades.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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