The planned relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam will suffer a setback if Tokyo does not abide by other agreements on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Wednesday.
Gates, in Tokyo to lay the groundwork for President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan next month, advised the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration to stick to the 2006 agreement and relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another location within Okinawa.
“We are very sympathetic to the desire of the government in Japan to review the realignment road map,” Gates said of the relocation of Futenma following a meeting with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa. But he insisted that relocation of the air station as planned is the “linchpin” of the program.
Without the Futenma agreement there will be no relocation of marines to Guam, Gates said, while acknowledging that such an outcome would affect the planned return of land in Okinawa.
The agreed road map “may not be the perfect alternative for anyone, but it is the best alternative for everyone. And it is time to move on,” Gates said.
While Japan and the U.S. agreed in 2006 to move the Futenma aircraft operations to the coast of Camp Schwab in Henoko near Nago, farther north on Okinawa Island, the DPJ, which ousted the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party in August, has proposed relocating the air station outside of the prefecture.
Gates said the precise location of a new airstrip to replace Futenma’s should be discussed between Okinawa and the Japanese government, as long as it does not become an impediment to the overall execution of the road map.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima has said construction of a new airfield is acceptable if it can be 50 meters farther from the coastline than the original plan.
On Japan’s plan to end the Maritime Self-Defense Force refueling mission in the Indian Ocean as part of antiterror operations, Gates said he hopes Japan can show leadership in other ways to help with Afghanistan’s reconstruction, pointing out that economic and agricultural support is essential to rebuild the war-torn country. Financial support for the Afghan national army and police is also vital, he said.
Kitazawa responded in the news conference that Japan’s alternative support plan is still in the works, but expressed his view that the Self-Defense Forces could take part in some manner.
“There is a question whether civilian aid is enough to meet expectations from the global community,” he said, adding that the Defense Ministry is listing possible alternatives to the refueling mission.
Gates was the first Cabinet secretary to meet in Tokyo with the new DPJ administration. Earlier in the day he paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
“The administration has new opinions (on the Futenma issue),” Hatoyama told reporters prior to meeting Gates. “We will spend some time and seek to find good results.”
During bilateral talks, Hatoyama assured Gates that Japan realizes the importance of the relocation road map and that the government was reviewing the process sincerely to reach a conclusion, according to a government release.
Hatoyama also congratulated Obama’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, praising his quest for global denuclearization and nonproliferation.
Gates leery on probe
Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Wednesday that the Democratic Party of Japan-led government should not let its probe into an alleged secret Japan-U.S. nuclear pact damage bilateral relations or undermine the U.S. nuclear deterrent, a Defense Ministry official said.
Gates made the remarks during his talks with his counterpart, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, in Tokyo.
Gates was referring to the investigation launched in September by the new administration into the alleged secret pact that Tokyo has long denied and that allegedly allowed Washington to transport nuclear weapons through Japan without prior consultations in violation of the 1960 bilateral security treaty.
The Pentagon chief was quoted as saying to Kitazawa that he is aware of the debate on the secret deal but he warned that Japan has to proceed without affecting bilateral relations or undermining U.S. nuclear deterrence.
Kitazawa said his government will look cautiously into the evidence so the bilateral alliance will not be harmed.
The two countries allegedly agreed to the deal when they were revising the security treaty in 1960. Under the pact, Japan would allow stopovers of U.S. military vessels or aircraft carrying nuclear weapons, despite treaty previsions requiring Washington to consult with Tokyo before such moves.