Okinawa governor says U.S.-Japan talks point to progress on base dispute
February 24, 2005
NAHA, Okinawa — Gov. Keiichi Inamine on Tuesday said he was encouraged by the news coming from Washington about last weekend’s ministerial-level talks concerning the U.S.-Japan security alliance.
Amid discussions of possible threats to the region by North Korea and tensions in the Taiwan Strait, Saturday’s bilateral talks included the possibility of increased sharing of U.S. bases in Japan by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and realigning U.S. forces in Japan.
“Over the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, the joint statement clarifies the commitment of both governments to reduce the burden on local communities, making specific mention of Okinawa,” Inamine said Tuesday. “That sets my expectation that through future discussions substantial progress will be made in the reduction of the bases on Okinawa, where vast U.S. military facilities are located.”
Okinawa is host to 75 percent of the land used solely by the U.S. military in Japan, covering 20 percent of the island of Okinawa. A 1996 bilateral agreement to reduce that footprint by 21 percent is behind schedule, Okinawa officials say.
“We will continue to urge both Japanese and U.S. governments to reduce the excessive burden of Okinawa in a visible manner,” Inamine said.
The prefecture has called for the relocation of some U.S. Marine bases and training outside Okinawa and reducing jet noise and eliminating nighttime flights at Kadena Air Base.
However, despite some Japanese press reports, Inamine has not called for the closing of all Marine bases, said Tadanobu Higa, chief of the Okinawa Military Affairs Office.
“However, he did not exclude the possibility of reviewing, sometime in the future, the need for any Marine bases on Okinawa,” Higa said.
Inamine is planning to take a nine-day lobbying trip to the United States in mid-March and hopes to meet with Pacific Command officials in Hawaii and Defense and State department officials in Washington.
A joint statement issued Saturday after the talks — involving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Japan Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and Defense Agency Director-General Yoshinori Ohno — in Washington stressed the importance of continuing to implement the 1996 agreement to reduce the land used by U.S. bases on Okinawa.
Among the goals set by the agreement are the closing of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Camp Lester and a major portion of the Marines’ Northern Training Area.
So far, the return of a major portion of Camp Lester — 94 acres of 244 acres to eventually be turned over — is the most visible base closure. The return of MCAS Futenma has been held up by the slow progress of selecting an alternate site in the waters off northeast Okinawa and proceeding with construction of an airport to be jointly used by military and civilian aircraft.