Campbell talks up ties with U.S. but ducks queries on Futenma

by Masami Ito

Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, made a brief stop Thursday in Tokyo to talk up bilateral ties despite simmering discord over where to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The senior diplomat, who met with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada ahead of a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Tokyo next week, said bilateral ties with Japan are as firm as ever.

“The president is very much looking forward to his visit to Japan next week and we went through what we hope to accomplish during this historic visit,” Campbell told reporters after the meeting at the Foreign Ministry.

“I think we are extraordinarily pleased with the preparations, excited about this next phase in our relationship . . . and also (making plans) to look at new areas where we can work closely together.”

Diplomatic friction has risen since the Democratic Party of Japan took power in September because of plans by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and his Cabinet to cancel a bilateral agreement to relocate the Futenma air base from Ginowan to Henoko in northern Okinawa Island. Some have called for the base to be removed altogether.

Hatoyama has also said he intends to conduct “a comprehensive review” of the Japanese-U.S. alliance as the bilateral security treaty approaches its 50th anniversary next year.

But Campbell stressed Thursday that the two countries are as tight as ever.

“We are fully committed to this alliance, we think that we are working very well together and everyone is excited to be back in Japan next week,” Campbell said.

Campbell, however, refused to answer questions about the issue, including whether he and Okada held direct talks about Futenma.

The U.S. has been pressuring Japan to reach a conclusion soon, but on Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the deadline was not Friday the 13th — the date of Obama’s visit.

“I don’t think that we’ve set any kind of deadline,” Kelly said at a news conference. “We believe that the agreement that we have is the best way forward, but we look forward to continued dialogue with Japan.”

In 2006, the Liberal Democratic Party-led government signed a bilateral agreement with the U.S. to move the base’s flight operations in Ginowan to Camp Schwab in Henoko by 2014.

But the DPJ, which swept to power in August in a wave of anti-LDP sentiment, promised to consider relocating the base outside Okinawa or even outside Japan.

“During the campaign, we did tell the people that we would go in the direction of reviewing Japan-U.S. relations, including the Futenma relocation issue,” Hatoyama said in the Lower House on Wednesday.