U.S. asks Japan to cover tab to move marines

But shifting 1,500 to Iwakuni base from Okinawa already unpopular

Kyodo

Washington is asking Japan to shoulder the full cost of relocating about 1,500 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to the Iwakuni air base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, according to sources.

The request was made during talks reviewing the plan to realign the marine presence in Okinawa.

The move to Iawakuni would involve logistics support elements, particularly the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the sources said.

Tokyo has expressed reluctance about moving 1,500 marines there due to local opposition, the source said.

They are part of around 8,000 marines who were originally scheduled to move from Okinawa to Guam based on a 2006 bilateral accord on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Under that deal, the transfer hinged on progress in relocating the Futenma air station from Ginowan to a less densely populated area in Nago, both in Okinawa.

Many Japanese officials believe the Iwakuni transfer is not feasible because of opposition from local governments and residents.

The central government will likely be in a tight spot if the United States tries to reach an agreement on the matter during the next bilateral “two-plus-two” meeting of the foreign affairs and defense chiefs in late April, the sources said.

In asking Japan to pay for the move, the U.S. said it would help ease Okinawa’s burden in hosting U.S. bases, which Japan has long been seeking, the sources said, adding the exact amount has not yet been presented.

If the 1,500 marines are not moved to Iwakuni, they will stay in Okinawa, the sources said.

The 1st Marine Aircraft Wing is based at Camp Zukeran in Okinawa and also has a helicopter unit at Futenma.

It is one of the facilities south of the U.S. Air Force Kadena base in Okinawa that are due to be returned to Japan as part of the accord to relocate Futenma.

Residents of Yamaguchi are opposed to taking on a further burden as the 2006 accord already includes plans for the Iwakuni base to accommodate U.S. carrier-borne fighter jets from U.S. Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Kanagawa Prefecture as well as aerial tankers based at Futenma.

Yamaguchi Gov. Sekinari Nii has said that unless Iwakuni is delisted as a transfer destination for the marines, he will freeze a land sale to the state for U.S. military family housing near the base.

Failure by the central government to purchase the land could prevent the construction of housing for the U.S. military and threaten the transfer of the carrier air wing to Iwakuni.

Bearing that in mind, a Foreign Ministry source said the marines’ Iwakuni relocation is “unacceptable since it will affect the overall realignment.”