U.S. Marines' move from Okinawa to Guam may be delayed beyond 2014

July 28, 2010 11:57 am 

WASHINGTON, July 28 — A planned transfer of U.S. Marines from Japan's Okinawa Prefecture to Guam could be delayed beyond the current target of 2014, as a U.S. official on Tuesday noted a shortage of infrastructure in the U.S. territory.

Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the navy in charge of energy, installations and environment issues, said in prepared testimony before a congressional panel that the Department of Defense "recognizes that Guam has existing infrastructure deficiencies that could affect the ability of DoD to execute the program on an aggressive construction schedule."

If the redeployment of some 8,000 Marine troops to Guam is delayed, it is also likely to affect the overall realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, including the relocation of the Marines' Futenma Air Station in the prefecture, as they are all part of a package deal.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Wallace Gregson also appeared as witnesses at the House of Representatives' Arms Services Committee.

The two U.S. officials urged Japan to cooperate so that the two countries can agree on details of the relocation of the Futenma base within Okinawa Prefecture by Aug. 31 as agreed earlier.

Tokyo plans to defer a decision on a specific scheme for the relocation of the Futenma base until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election in late November, according to Japanese government sources.

Gregson said he expects that details of the planned relocation will be worked out by Japan and the United States by the deadline of late August, allowing "for a final political decision on relocation this fall."

Gregson noted that a joint statement issued May 28 by the two countries stipulates that a bilateral expert group will work out details of the method of construction and configuration of the replacement facility by the end of August.

Under the May accord, the two countries would transfer the Futenma base in Ginowan to the less populated coastal area near the Marines' Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago in the same prefecture.

"That effort is well under way, and we expect the group to complete its efforts on schedule," he said.

Gregson also said the realignment plan will improve the livelihood of people in Okinawa, saying, "It directly affects their noise, safety and environmental concerns."

Campbell also showed confidence about a successful conclusion of the ongoing working level talks on the relocation of Futenma base, saying Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan has pledged to abide by the May 28 accord and said it is the foundation for Japan-U.S. partnership going forward.

On Japan's spending on hosting U.S. military bases and personnel in the country, Gregson indicated opposition to a planned cut in the budget by Tokyo, saying that further reductions in the host nation support "signals to both friends and potential adversaries in the region that Japan does not take its commitment to its defense seriously."

"The current host nation support agreement, which calls for some $ 1.7 billion per year, runs out in 2011," Gregson said. "We're looking for another five-year agreement."

Asked about the political turmoil in Japan such as frequent changes of prime ministers, Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat for U.S. policy toward Japan, said, "Rapid turnover in prime ministers and ministers makes it very difficult to establish the kinds of relationships and the confidence that is necessary in government."

"It does raise some concerns for us," he said.

On the other hand, Campbell also told the House panel that the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan appears more eager to engage in security talks with the U.S. government than previous governments in the country.

"The DPJ wants to play a closer and deeper role with the United States on some of these consultations," he said. (PNA/Kyodo)

ALM/ebp

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