Okada, Steinberg discuss Iran nukes

by Masami Ito

Visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said in Tokyo Friday that he and Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada are discussing how to coordinate more closely on the nuclear challenges of Iran.

But on the hot-button issue of moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Steinberg only said the two countries were working hard to resolve it.

“We talked about the full range of our bilateral issues and it’s something that both sides are working on very productively,” Steinberg told reporters, referring to Futenma. “I am grateful for the continued support and engagement of the foreign minister and all of the Japanese government on this issue.”

The senior U.S. official said he and Okada took “extended time” to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue.

Last month, Okada urged Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani in Tokyo to comply with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council to stop enriching uranium and prove to the international community that it has no intentions of manufacturing nuclear weapons. Okada also told Larijani that if the UNSC adopts a resolution against Iran, Japan would have to follow.

Steinberg welcomed Japan’s statements to Iran.

“I think Iran needs to understand that it has a fundamental choice in front of us,” Steinberg said. “The international community now expects Iran to take unequivocal steps to come into compliance with its international obligations or . . . there will clearly be consequences.”

Meanwhile, Okada and Steinberg are believed to have discussed the air base issue because Japan is trying to come up with a new site so the facility can be moved out the densely populated Okinawa city of Ginowan.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Thursday the government will make a decision on the relocation by the end of this month so the issue can be settled with Washington by the end of May as pledged.

Instead of sticking to a 2006 agreement signed with the U.S. and moving the base and its aircraft operations to the Henoko coastal area of Camp Schwab by 2014, Hatoyama’s government has been looking at alternative sites.

The government is reportedly considering moving the base more inland at Camp Schwab or moving it to a filled-in sea area between a U.S. Navy facility at White Beach in Uruma and nearby Tsuken Island.

But the U.S. government has repeatedly stressed that the Henoko plan is the best option, pointing out that it took years of discussions to reach the 2006 accord.

Although Japanese-U.S. relations have been strained over the Futenma relocation issue, Steinberg stressed that bilateral ties were strong and the two countries have been working closely on a broad range of topics, from economic growth and climate change to the nuclear challenges of Pyongyang and Iran and building peace and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The partnership between the United States and Japan is very strong and I am grateful for the opportunity to exchange views with the foreign minister and to continue our very close cooperation on all of these issues,” Steinberg said.