$26 billion bill coming Japan’s way: Pentagon

Kyodo

Tokyo will be paying an estimated $26 billion or more to implement the overall U.S. military realignment in Japan over six to seven years, compared with Washington’s share of $4 billion, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.

Richard Lawless, deputy defense undersecretary for Asia and Pacific affairs, unveiled the estimates at a news conference when repeatedly asked why the United States struck a compromise Sunday with Japan on sharing the cost for relocating 8,000 marines to Guam from Okinawa.

Japan agreed to pay $6.09 billion, or 59 percent, of the $10.27 billion total relocation cost through grants, investment and loans. The U.S. had asked Japan to pay $7.5 billion, or 75 percent, of the earlier estimated cost of $10 billion.

“The only cost to the United States is $4 billion on Guam,” Lawless said, arguing the deal was a “fairly struck bargain” in the broader context of Japan shouldering all the costs for changes within Japan, including the relocation of the marines’ Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, on top of its Guam share.

“On the whole islands of Japan, including Okinawa, let us say it is approximately $20 billion. Adding to that their costs on Guam . . . makes that total about $26 billion,” Lawless said. “It is their responsibility.

“But these are very rough, probably reasonably conservative estimates,” Lawless said.

“This is a large expenditure on their part, a huge investment on their part in the alliance,” he said. “So when you look at it in that context, we feel that this is a fairly struck bargain, that we are sharing costs on a reasonable basis on that Guam discrete portion of that budget.”

Given the Pentagon estimate, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe reacted sharply. “In my impression, it is an incredible sum of money,” he said Wednesday in Tokyo.

A senior government official told reporters separately he doubts $26 billion is the exact total. He said the Pentagon may be inflating the figure to help persuade Congress to approve the realignment project.

Japan does not have to pay some costs mentioned by Lawless, the official said.

Meanwhile, senior working-level talks began Monday in Washington to finalize an overall implementation plan and set the stage for holding a “two-plus-two” top security meeting of the two nation’s top defense and foreign affairs officials early next week.

They “are now going over some very fine tuning” so they can compile “a comprehensive implementation plan to present to our leadership either later this week or early next week,” said Lawless, who is taking part in the talks.

But they had not completed it as of Tuesday, and the top security meeting will not be held unless the two sides resolve all issues and finalize the plan to implement the overall realignment agreement reached last October, Lawless said.

“The two-plus-two meeting is something that we will be prepared to move forward with, ideally next week, but we will only have a two-plus-two meeting if we reach agreement on the entire package,” he said.

Japanese officials said the senior working-level talks will continue Wednesday.

Lawless said it is still the goal to complete the realignment by 2012 after beginning the actual implementation this year.