• Kyodo

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Japan and the United States were set to agree Monday to set up a defense coordination mechanism amid what they see as lingering “uncertainties and instabilities” in the Asia-Pacific region, despite recent positive developments on the Korean Peninsula.

At the so-called two-plus-two meeting of defense and foreign ministers, the two governments were also to set out measures on environmental pollution caused by the U.S. military in Japan. This follows recent reports of hazardous chemicals detected in warehouses, soil and water on U.S. bases, government officials said.

The two sides were set to sign a new five-year accord on Japan’s host-nation financial support for U.S. military facilities, making official an earlier announced agreement to trim the annual 180 billion yen obligation by some 3.3 billion yen a year, the officials said.

On U.S. military bases in Okinawa, the two countries were to note in a written joint statement for the first time that the Japanese side “took up the problem,” alluding to a local request to impose a 15-year limit on U.S. military use of a new facility to be constructed to host helicopter operations of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station.

The statement was not to include a U.S. position on the issue but was to reiterate that the two countries “will continue close consultations . . . on the U.S. troop structure . . . in accordance with changes in international security situations,” one of the officials said.

The security meeting was to bring together Foreign Minister Yohei Kono and Defense Agency Director General Kazuo Torashima, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen on the sidelines of the U.N. Millennium General Assembly session.

The officials said they were set to issue four statements after the one-hour meeting — the joint statement and three other documents to detail the coordination mechanism, the environment accord and the new host-nation agreement to replace the current one that expires March 31.

In the joint statement, the four ministers were expected to set out their common view that “uncertainties and instabilities remain in the Asia-Pacific region,” while welcoming “the recent favorable developments” led by the first-ever inter-Korea summit held in June, one official said.

Against this backdrop, they were expected to reaffirm “the extremely important role played by the bilateral security alliance in maintaining peace and stability in the region,” the official said.

The four ministers were to express their “strong hope” that positive inter-Korea developments will lead to easing tension on the peninsula, and were to reaffirm the need to continue policy coordination among Japan, South Korea and the U.S. in order to “heighten such possibilities,” the official said.

They were also to stress “the extreme importance of China playing a positive and constructive role” for stability and prosperity in the region.

The officials said the defense mechanism will involve four joint groups to coordinate and implement operations in case of armed attacks on Japan and emergencies in “areas surrounding Japan.”

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