Cohen, Hashimoto seek to ease Okinawa burden

Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen and Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto agreed April 9 on the need for both governments to further collaborate to ease the military burden on Okinawa, where most of the U.S. troops in Japan are based, government officials said.

During an hourlong meeting with Hashimoto in the morning, Cohen also iterated that Washington intends to hold to its policy of maintaining the current level of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region unless a drastic change takes place in the area’s military situation. If such a change takes place, Cohen reconfirmed that the U.S. will consult with Japan about possible changes in the level of the U.S. military presence in the region. Hashimoto told Cohen that Tokyo has no plan to seek a cut in the current level of U.S. forces in Japan at least for the time being.

Expressing concern that the Asia-Pacific region has become more vulnerable to new hazards, such as regional and racial conflicts, since the end of the Cold War, Cohen reconfirmed the U.S. commitment to the region and called bilateral security ties with Japan “the pivot” of regional peace and stability. “Although people thought the perils have disappeared when the Cold War was over, new types of hazards have been emerging in the region,” Cohen told Hashimoto, calling for further cooperation from Tokyo in strengthening the bilateral military alliance.

Cohen, who served as a U.S. congressman for many years, noted his realization of the difficulty in adjusting such conflicts of interest between the central and local governments. He said Washington will continue to cooperate with Tokyo to lessen the burden on Okinawa.

Advocating the need for the regional antimissile defense system known as the Theater Missile Defense system, Cohen told Hashimoto that the U.S. attaches importance to the system as an effective tool to counter such threats as weapons of mass destruction.