Japan’s new Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta agreed Wednesday that the current plan for the relocation of a U.S. Marine base within Okinawa Prefecture is the only feasible solution, Defense Ministry officials said.
Morimoto, in his first telephone talks with Panetta since assuming office on June 4, was referring to the plan to move the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential area in the city of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko district of Nago.
The relocation issue has long been stalled, putting the central and local governments at odds. The government has been pushing for the plan as agreed with the United States.
The United States and Japan announced on Thursday a revised agreement on streamlining the U.S. military presence on Okinawa that will shift 9,000 Marines from the southern Japanese island to Guam and other Asia-Pacific sites.The new plan, unveiled days before Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda meets President Barack Obama in Washington, helps the allies work around the central but still-unresolved dispute over moving the Futenma air base from a crowded part of Okinawa to a new site that has vexed relations for years.”I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached this important agreement and plan of action. I applaud the hard work and effort that went into crafting it,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.
Japan and the United States are discussing the transfer of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture out of the country ahead of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, government sources said.
The move comes as part of a review of a 2006 bilateral agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in the country. Under the accord, the transfer of the Marines to Guam and the relocation of the Futenma station were supposed to be handled together.
Senior officials of the foreign and defense ministries of the two countries will meet in Washington on Monday to start full-fledged negotiations on a new realignment plan, according to the sources.
President Barack Obama vowed continued U.S. help for key ally Japan to rebuild after its devastating earthquake and tsunami but also pushed for progress on a long-delayed plan to relocate American forces in the country.
Obama held his first meeting Wednesday with Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s newest prime minister. Noda has held office for less than a month and faces domestic challenges beyond the natural disasters, including a stagnant economy and a crushing national debt. The two leaders met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
Noda is Japan’s sixth prime minister in five years. He also said rebuilding is his top priority. More than 20,000 people died or were left missing after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan that sent a nuclear power plant into meltdown. It was the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl and led another 100,000 people to leave their homes because of a radiation threat.
The U.S. and Japan said Tuesday they would press ahead with the costly relocation a U.S. Marine air station in Japan but pushed back the deadline amid opposition to the plans in both countries.The delay in the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the southern island of Okinawa had been widely anticipated. Japans government has failed to win the requisite assent of residents there, although the plans aim to reduce the U.S. military footprint on the island that hosts more than half of the 47,000 American troops in Japan.A joint statement said the relocation would be completed at the "earliest possible date" after 2014, the original deadline.