Rice says realignment efforts will continue
TOKYO — Japan’s May deadline to review the proposed move of a Marine base on Okinawa will not set back long-term plans for U.S. military moves throughout the country, according to the top U.S. military officer in Japan.
“We can operate within the time field,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Edward Rice said Thursday night during a live broadcast of “Prime News” on BS Fuji, an affiliate of the popular network Fuji TV.
“We are still moving forward with other elements of our realignment efforts,” Rice said in response to questions from Fuji TV journalists during the two-hour show. “There are many things we can work on and we are working on.”
The realignment plans include moving 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam and closing Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa. Current plans — agreed to by past U.S. and Japanese administrations — also call for moving that air station from urban Ginowan to the more rural Nago area.
It’s that planned move that sparked protests from Okinawan residents and propelled candidates critical of the move into national and local offices, including last weekend’s Nago mayoral election. Last month, the newly installed Japanese government announced it would review the plans for Futenma and announce its findings in May.
On Thursday, Rice said the U.S. military is cooperating with the review and offering information about past considerations for the air station’s new home.
But he also said the U.S. military is currently not looking for other sites for the Futenma units. Instead, the United States is waiting for Japan to conduct its own study.
“I think we have to give that a little bit of time,” Rice said
Also this week, two top U.S. officials — Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Wallace Gregson, the assistant secretary of defense for Asia and the Pacific — will be in Japan. The men are coming for meetings with the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee that will include the Futenma issue.
The opposition surrounding Futenma has caused a ripple between the two allies, just as they marked the 50th anniversary of their security treaty.
During the program, Rice also took questions from viewers by e-mail, including one who asked the general to explain his feelings about Okinawa’s reactions to the proposed move.
“I try very hard to understand the feelings of the local people,” Rice said, adding that he’s never lived on Okinawa and that it can be hard to fully appreciate their feelings. “I try very hard to put myself in their position.”
The general also said it’s important to look at the Futenma issue and the Marines’ move as a plan that affects Japan, the United States and the region. The aim, he said, is to come up with what’s best for everyone.
But, he said, not everyone “is going to be fully satisfied with the results.”