Japan, U.S. sign accord on forces

Clinton offers assurances on security ties; Aso to meet Obama at White House Feb. 24

by Jun Hongo

Japan and the United States formally signed an agreement Tuesday to relocate about 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 and reinforce security ties.

At a signing ceremony with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone at the Iikura guest house in Tokyo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her first trip as chief diplomat, reassured Japan that its ties with the U.S. are key to Washington’s policy in Asia and will contribute to peace and stability in the region.

“The realignment reflects the commitment we have to modernize our military posture in the Pacific,” Clinton said.

It was one of the first diplomatic agreements signed by the administration of President Barack Obama.

“This is one more example of the strong and vibrant alliance that we enjoy,” Clinton said at the signing ceremony.

The agreement, based on a 2006 road map for reorganizing the U.S. forces in Japan, states that the two sides will advance the transfer to ease Okinawa’s burden in hosting the bases.

Foreign Ministry officials lauded the move as the fastest and most realistic measure for bolstering public support for the security alliance.

“We had agreed on terms with the road map, but the signing of an official agreement makes the accord legally inclusive and established,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

In another sign that Washington is drawing closer to Japan, Clinton invited Aso to visit the White House on Feb. 24 to meet Obama.

“The Japanese prime minister will be the first head of state to visit the new president. We thankfully accept the invitation,” Nakasone said.

Aso has been eager to meet his popular U.S. counterpart before an economic summit is held in April in London.

Tuesday’s document states that Japan will pay for $6.09 billion of the $10.27 billion price tag for the U.S. forces realignment. Developing new facilities and infrastructure on Guam alone will cost Japan $2.8 billion. The agreement requires that Washington limit its use of Japan’s money to relocation projects and return any that goes unused.

The realignment will move about 8,000 out of the 50,000-strong U.S. Marine Corps contingent in Okinawa and their dependents, who numbered around 9,000 in 2006, by 2014.

Clinton and Nakasone also exchanged views on global concerns during their two-hour meeting, including North Korea’s denuclearization and the ongoing effort to determine the fate of Japanese abducted by Pyongyang in the 1970s and ’80s.

To relieve concerns that Washington dropped the issue when it took North Korea off its list of terrorism-sponsoring states in October, Clinton met later in the day with relatives of the abductees.

Clinton, who has warned North Korea to drop its nuclear program and be more forthcoming on the abductions, said she intends to break the stalemate in the abduction talks by linking the issue with international efforts to denuclearize the reclusive country.

“The abductee issue is a part of the six-party talks. We believe it should be,” Clinton said. She said she would express her sympathy and concern to the abductees’ relatives.

Clinton and Nakasone also agreed to collaborate on global efforts to fight climate change and to avoid protectionist trade practices that could worsen the global economy, the Foreign Ministry said.

“Japan and the U.S. agree that bilateral ties must continue to be reinforced,” Nakasone said.

In a sign that the U.S. supports Japan’s role as a stabilizing force in the Asia-Pacific region, Clinton pledged to cooperate with a global conference this spring in Tokyo on providing aid for Pakistan. She also thanked Japan for supporting the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan by providing refueling in the Indian Ocean by the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada met with Clinton later in the day and gave her details of the plan to send MSDF ships to patrol for pirates off Somalia.

Experts greeted Clinton’s maiden journey as a sign of Washington’s dedication to Japan but said the ball is now in Tokyo’s court and it must prove its worth as a partner.

“It’s good that Prime Minister Aso is going to be the first foreign head of state to meet Obama at the White House,” said Jitsuo Tsuchiyama, a professor at Aoyama Gakuin University. “But this also translates into high expectations on the part of the U.S. for the role Japan can play.”

He said it was regrettable that Nakasone and Clinton only repeated the importance of bilateral ties instead of illustrating a specific vision for the relationship.

“The value of bilateral ties has been acknowledged for a long time. Tokyo should have taken it a step further and demonstrated what it can do with the U.S. as a global partner, and exemplify the role it is willing to play to halt the economic crisis,” Tsuchiyama said.