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Pacific edition, Friday, September 28, 2007

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. military faces several challenges as it forges ahead with realignment plans and addresses potential threats in the Pacific, a State Department official told base commanders and other senior leaders at a U.S. Forces Japan conference held Wednesday.

Joseph Donovan, deputy chief of mission for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, also said the United States will ask Japan to continue with a key refueling operation in the Indian Ocean that supports Operation Enduring Freedom.

Inchiro Ozawa, an opposition leader in the upper house of Japan’s parliament, has pledged to delay extension of the law, which expires Nov. 1. A suspension for some period of time appears likely, Donovan said.

“We have to impress on the Japanese public that we appreciate this support, and that refueling mission is also important to our allies,” he added. “We look forward to a Japan that is active internationally. We feel Japan has much to offer.”

China, meanwhile, continues to modernize its forces and expand capabilities through “double-digit increases in defense spending,” he said, adding that the U.S. goal should be to make sure it develops peacefully and is not a threat to its neighbors.

“The best way we can do that is to work very closely with Japan,” he added.

Donovan said six-party talks remain the best option for resolving the threat from North Korea, which recently tested a nuclear device and continues to seek offensive missile capabilities.

“Judging from the past, anything we do with North Korea, we’ve got to have a healthy degree of skepticism,” he said. “But there are reasons to be optimistic.”

Given the uncertainty in this part of the world, Donovan said, realignment will leave U.S. forces in Japan “well positioned to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

He called the U.S.-Japan agreement on realignment a “product of intensive negotiations.”

The relocation of 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam, Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s move to Camp Schwab and transfer of the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5 from Atsugi Naval Air Facility to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni — all by 2014 — are among its loftier goals.

“I’m very optimistic we’ll be able to move forward,” Donovan said. “I wouldn’t say it’s perfect, but I really think it is the best deal for the U.S. and Japanese people. It’s also going to be a very expensive proposition for both governments.”

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