Rice to DPJ: Altering base plan ill-advised

by Jun Hongo

The 2006 road map on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan was reached through complex negotiations and should not be changed unilaterally by either Tokyo or Washington, the commander of U.S. Forces in Japan told reporters Thursday.

Recent polls have indicated the Democratic Party of Japan could seize power in the Aug. 30 Lower House election. As the DPJ has already hinted it would review the realignment process, the prospect of the largest opposition party winning the poll has raised concern in some quarters that a DPJ-led government could cancel the 2006 agreement.

Lt. Gen. Edward A. Rice declined comment on the possibility of a DPJ-led government, but he did point out the 2006 agreement, which includes the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, was reached through difficult political negotiations.

“The road map is not a menu from which either side can pick or choose what it wants to implement,” Rice told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Rice also assured that Washington will continue to work closely with Tokyo regardless of which party wins the election, adding he has no plan to interfere in local politics.

On Sunday in Okinawa, DPJ President Yukio Hatoyama said in a speech that Tokyo should consider moving the Futenma air base outside Okinawa instead of along a coastal strip in northern Okinawa Island, as agreed by Tokyo and Washington in 2006.

Residents at the planned relocation site cite concerns about noise pollution from U.S. military aircraft and the impact the base could have on local coral reefs.

Rice, while carefully avoiding mention of Hatoyama’s comments, argued that the road map provides a balance of continuing to defend Japan and the region while decreasing the impact of the presence of U.S. forces in communities. The Futenma base is located in Ginowan, which has grown densely populated in the years since the base opened.

Regarding North Korea’s threat, Rice told reporters it is difficult to accurately gauge Pyongyang’s intentions and capabilities as the state remains highly reclusive.

But he acknowledged Pyongyang continues to possess a capable and formidable force.