Okinawa marines not Iwakuni-bound: Genba

Kyodo

The government will not give the go-ahead for the United States to redeploy some of the U.S. Marines in Okinawa to a base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in connection with Washington’s ongoing defense strategy revision, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said Monday.

Genba gave this assurance at the outset of his talks with Yamaguchi Gov. Sekinari Nii at the Foreign Ministry that were open to the press.

“We have no plans to ask for any additional burden” by Yamaguchi Prefecture in hosting U.S. forces in Japan under the bilateral security accord, Genba said.

The meeting took place as the United States sounded out Japan on a plan to move about 1,500 marines to Iwakuni during their discussions on revising the 2006 road map plan on the realignment of U.S. forces in Okinawa.

Last week, Japan and the United States said some marines could be transferred to Guam even if tangible progress is not made on relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma elsewhere in Okinawa.

Under the 2006 plan, a Futenma replacement airstrip was to be built by 2014 on the Henoko coast at Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, and then 8,000 of the 18,000-strong marine contingent, and their dependents, would be relocated to Guam.

Strong local opposition, however, has prevented work to start on the Nago base.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget, due out Monday, will include a large cut in defense spending.

Tokyo and Washington have said they will try to work out the specifics of the new plan in a few months.

According to several sources based in Washington, the Pentagon is considering moving about 4,700 marines from Okinawa to Guam and the 3,300 others elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, including 1,500 of them to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.