YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — A top Japanese Foreign Ministry official suggested Tuesday that Japan and the United States may conduct ministerial talks in February about the potential U.S. military realignment in Japan, Kyodo News reported.

U.S. Forces Japan officials could not confirm the arrangement. Michael Boyle, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Tokyo, said any decision to engage at that level would be made in Washington.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials, contacted Wednesday, said a time and place has not been determined for the proposed ministerial discussions.

Under the scenario, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who’s been nominated as a replacement for Secretary of State Colin Powell, would sit down with Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono.

“What I’ve seen is the Japanese government expressing interest in seeing the talks take place in February,” Boyle said Wednesday. “Any formal announcement from the U.S. side would come from Washington. The ‘two-plus-two’ talks are supposed to be with the secretaries of State and Defense, so I have no idea which one would issue any statement.

“The issue has come up on several other occasions. There’s certainly interest on both sides in pursuing that. But a decision to hold them would have to come from Washington.”

Over the past two years, the United States and Japan have taken part in a series of discussions, floating different ideas about the potential reorganization and realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

“We talk all the time,” Marine Maj. James Bell, a USFJ spokesman, said Wednesday. “Japan is our most significant ally in the Asia-Pacific region, so we definitely talk frequently at different levels. Usually with something like this, there would be some sort of formal announcement made. But we haven’t heard anything recently.

“There are talks taking place on a pretty regular basis. But lots of times, the different discussions don’t end up becoming action items. It’s an ongoing routine for us, and that’s what allows us to maintain such a good relationship — robust, varied layers of communication between our two countries.”

While stating Japan’s preference to meet in February, the ministry official acknowledged that scheduling hurdles remain, according to the Kyodo News report.

Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of Defense, was in Japan this week for bilateral discussions with Japanese officials on various defense topics, including a review of U.S. military positioning.

A central theme in the military realignment talks focuses on whether Japan will accept a U.S. proposal to relocate the U.S. Army’s 1st Corps headquarters in Washington state to Camp Zama, Japanese government sources told Kyodo News.

Boyle said it’s premature to speculate on what topics might be on the agenda for any ministerial talks.

There’s also no timetable for major decisions on realignment or restructuring, Bell added.

“The discussions will continue,” he said. “We’re just one piece of the Department of Defense’s global realignment puzzle. It remains to be seen how much impact that will have on U.S. forces in Japan.”

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

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