WASHINGTON – The United States has told Japan it plans to reduce the number of troops in Okinawa Prefecture as part of a major military realignment, but the proposal’s feasibility remains unclear due to local opposition in other parts of Japan.
Japanese sources said strong opposition from local officials in places where Washington wants to transfer the troops has left Tokyo cautious, and negotiations over the realignment are likely to be prolonged.
“I haven’t got a clue how much of that can be realized,” a government source said. “(The negotiations) have just begun.”
At working level talks that began Thursday, the U.S. and Japan discussed moving some marines in Okinawa to Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture.
At the same time, the U.S. suggested integrating the functions of its 13th Air Force in Guam into the 5th Air Force at Yokota base in western Tokyo and relocating an army brigade in Washington state to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture.
The large-scale realignment plan also includes moving night landing practice at Atsugi to Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture due to complaints about severe noise.
The U.S. government is already proceeding with realignment negotiations with other countries, including talks to cut the number of its forces in South Korea by a third and to reduce its troops in Germany.
But the Pentagon wants to increase the importance of U.S. bases in Japan and use the country as a base for frontline deployment.
There are strong expectations in Japan that the realignment would bring about a reduction of U.S. bases and troops. But a large-scale reduction is not part of the U.S. plan.
Doubts about the feasibility of the realignment plan were reportedly raised even among U.S. military officials in uniform, who see it as impractical.
A Department of Defense official who asked not to be named said the realignment would require agreement from Japan and other allies, emphasizing that Washington would respect the Japanese government’s decision.
Yasumasa Nagamine, deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, and Richard Lawless, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia and the Pacific, are among the participants in the talks between the two governments being held in San Francisco.