WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate and House Armed Services committees Tuesday approved a government proposal to spend $26 million to finance the transfer of marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam.
The committees also approved the execution of related spending that has been financed by the Japanese government in the past but has been frozen.
This is the first time in two years that outlays for the transfer of the marines have been approved by Congress.
The approval came as the committees finished work to consolidate both chambers’ defense authorization legislation for fiscal 2013, which ends next September.
Congress rejected all new budget requests for the Guam transfer in fiscal 2012 due to sloppy planning by the government and a delay in the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in an urban area of Ginowan, on Okinawa Island, to the Henoko coastal area of Nago, farther north. Unused funds chiefly contributed by Japan in the past were also frozen.
Building the airstrip to replace Futenma was one of the conditions for moving the marines from Okinawa to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam under an original agreement between the two countries.
But in April, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed to delink the Futenma relocation and the Guam transfer.
The Senate relaxed its tough stance on the proposed spending for the marines’ transfer after the Defense Department pressed for an urgent realignment of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region, sources said.
On Tuesday, the committees unfroze the execution of ¥5.6 billion in spending Tokyo earmarked in its fiscal 2009 and 2010 budgets and paid to the U.S. government. The sum is only a small part of the overall ¥80 billion in transfer costs that the U.S. received from Japan for the two years.
Other Japanese-financed outlays and past U.S. budgets will remain frozen until the U.S. government submits forces-deployment plans for the Asia-Pacific region and related programs to Congress.
The unified defense authorization legislation also includes a clause stating the U.S. commitment to defending the Senkaku Islands, also considered part of Okinawa.
The legislation will be put to votes at plenary meetings of the Senate and House later this week.
Following their approval, President Barack Obama will sign it into law.
Assessment turned over
The mayor of Nago in Okinawa slammed the government Wednesday for abruptly handing over supplementary documents on the environmental impact assessment for the relocation of a U.S. base to the city, just hours after it said it had no prospects for such an early submission.
“(The government) said it will provide a thorough explanation and do what it can to gain acceptance in Okinawa, but it is doing the opposite,” Susumu Inamine told reporters, referring to the plan to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in Okinawa, with a new airstrip in Nago.
His comments came after Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said Tuesday there is no prospect in sight for handing in the documents. They were then submitted to the prefecture and city in the afternoon, drawing local ire.