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Hagel vows to address Okinawa base concerns

Kyodo

U.S. Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel pledged Thursday to make efforts to ease the burden on Okinawa from hosting the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, while promoting President Barack Obama’s goal of rebalancing the U.S. military toward the Asia-Pacific region.

In a written statement submitted to a hearing of the Senate Arms Services Committee, Hagel, a 66-year-old moderate Republican, also said Washington will work with its allies to deter North Korea’s provocations.

On the Asia-Pacific region, Hagel said in the written testimony, “If confirmed, I would support the administration’s effort to work toward a posture that is more geographically distributed, for example the movement of forces to Guam and Australia.”

Noting that such a movement needs to be “politically sustainable,” the former senator from Nebraska said, “We must work with our partners and allies to address their concerns about U.S. presence, such as in Okinawa.”

The issue of the stalled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa symbolizes the frustration of residents who live near U.S. military facilities in the prefecture.

With regard to North Korea, Hagel said in the written testimony, “I am concerned about North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs because they present an immediate threat to our allies and partners as well as (a) growing threat to the United States.”

If confirmed, Hagel said he would ensure that the Defense Department, along with other U.S. government agencies, take the necessary steps to defend the U.S. and its allies and enhance engagement with those allies to ensure deterrence against, and, if necessary, defeat of North Korean aggression.

He also said in his opening remarks at the hearing, “We are in the process of modernizing our defense posture across the entire region to defend and deepen our partnership with traditional allies, especially Japan, South Korea and Australia, to continue to deter and defend against provocations from states like North Korea.”