Flexibility key for marines’ Guam move: Rice

by Kakumi Kobayashi and Shoko Ueda

Kyodo News

The top commander of the U.S. forces in Japan suggested last week that a more flexible approach by both the military and the Japanese government would help to achieve the planned relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps contingent to Guam from Okinawa by 2014.

In an interview, Lt. Gen. Edward Rice also offered reassurance that no threat to safety is posed by the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which from August is to make Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, its forward-deployed port, becoming the first nuclear-powered flattop based in Japan.

“The government of Guam, industry partners, the U.S. military and the government of Japan are working to determine how we can think creatively about how to make this work,” Rice said, referring to the marine relocation plan, a key item in a Japan-U.S. agreement on the reorganization of U.S. forces in Japan.

“There are needs to continue to be flexible all round to complete this,” said Rice, who served as commander of the 13th Air Force on Guam in 2005.

The remarks came after the U.S. Government Accountability Office warned earlier this month that the planned relocation of marines to Guam from Okinawa could be delayed, citing the new host’s poor infrastructure and both governments’ fiscal burdens.

“There may be restrictions in place in terms of who can come to Guam to do the work. The government of Guam might be able to be more flexible” about whom they allow to come in to do the work, Rice said, without elaborating.

He also denied the U.S. side can meet a request by Okinawa to slightly redesign the plan to build a relocation facility in Nago for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan. The marine relocation is contingent on the completion of the new air base by the target year.

“It’s very easy to fall into the thinking that a small change in one place won’t affect the rest of the program. It’s our view that a small change can very well affect the rest of the program,” Rice, 52, said.

Referring to the planned deployment of the George Washington to replace the USS Kitty Hawk, Rice said, “I’m absolutely confident that we will operate this ship safely.”

The city of Yokosuka supports the George Washington deployment, but some citizens are opposed or are calling for more disclosure of information about the nuclear-powered ship, citing safety concerns.

There is “not one single incident of release of radioactivity or an environmental issue” with nuclear-powered vessels of the U.S. Navy in 40 years, Rice said.

“Sometimes it isn’t well understood this isn’t just about defending against an attack on Japan, it’s about regional stability that underpins the economic prosperity of Japan,” he said.