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U.S. budget woes balk marines transfer

Kyodo

Automatic austerity measures that took effect in the U.S. at midnight Friday are likely to further delay Washington’s plans to move thousands of marines from Okinawa to Guam, and to force changes to American military programs elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region.

The spending cuts could push the marines relocation plan back “two or three years, maybe more,” Rep. Madeleine Bordallo of Guam said after a Wednesday meeting at the Pentagon with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo.

The budget cuts, known as sequestration, are slated to reduce discretionary spending across the federal government by as much as $1.2 trillion (¥112 trillion) over the next 10 years. U.S. defense spending will be trimmed by as much as 9 percent across the board, with consequences expected for the Guam relocation, among other military plans in the region.

Although the U.S. Defense Department will suffer the largest cuts of all federal agencies, sequestration will also impact other entities that provide funding integral to the planned relocation. Fiscal blows to the Transportation and Interior departments will likely slow the kinds of infrastructure projects necessary for Guam to accommodate the planned influx of U.S. troops.

“Before the first marines can come in, you’ve got to make sure you have the roads, the sewers, water, power. . . . We’ve already reached the limit of our capacity,” Gov. Calvo said Wednesday, following a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The deal inked by Japan and the United States in 2006 calls for 8,000 marines to be moved from Okinawa to Guam by 2014. Since that time, however, the deadline has repeatedly been pushed back, a situation that has frustrated both Bordallo and Calvo, who are eager for the economic stimulus the relocation will provide.

“In the very beginning, we were very excited about the plans,” Bordallo said, “and then when everything slowed down, you know, it was disappointing.”

Calvo called the relocation a “perfect collaboration” for both the people of Guam and Okinawa, pointing out that “obviously, there’s some exasperation” about the delays.

That same sense of frustration may also be felt in other Asia-Pacific areas, where budget cuts related to sequestration are projected to have far-reaching effects on U.S. military readiness and planning.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee in early February, Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told senators that if sequestration were to kick in, the army would suffer “seriously degraded capabilities” that could make it difficult to respond to threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

Additionally, the U.S. Navy has outlined plans to reduce operations of vessels and aircraft stationed in Asia by one-third, as well as to cancel scheduled deployments to the region of four ships and all planes.