Japan has asked the United States to move some of its military units in Okinawa Prefecture to overseas locations as part of a global realignment plan for its forces, government sources said Thursday.
Tokyo proposed that the 3,000-member 4th Regiment of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force stationed in Okinawa be moved out, the sources said.
The 4th Regiment has been in Iraq since February and the U.S. is considering not returning the regiment to Okinawa after the completion of its duties in the Middle Eastern country.
The 4th Regiment, which is among the 18,000-strong 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, is stationed at Camp Schwab in the city of Nago.
Japan’s proposal, made during a bilateral working-level session in Washington on Sept. 20, is in keeping with the U.S. military’s operational plan, the sources said.
During the talks, the Japanese side told the U.S. it plans to prioritize the proposed civilian use of the U.S. Air Force’s Yokota base in western Tokyo.
The government also repeated its opposition to Washington’s request that the headquarters of the U.S. Army’s 1st Corps be transferred from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture.
It is unclear whether Washington will accept the proposals because it is reportedly unhappy with Tokyo’s rejection of the 1st Corps’ relocation.
The 1st Corps oversees some 40,000 soldiers comprising both active and reserve forces and can deploy reinforcements within 48 hours to the Pacific Command in the event of conflict in the Asia-Pacific region.
Its headquarters are staffed by about 500 people.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Wednesday that Japan has proposed that the U.S. move some of its troops out of Okinawa as part of its global military realignment plan. Marines constitute the majority of the U.S. military presence in Okinawa.
In Hanoi, meanwhile, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters traveling with him on Thursday that he wants to pursue the possibility of relocating some of Okinawa’s U.S. bases to overseas locations and to other locations in Japan.
Asked whether he is concerned that relocating U.S. bases outside Japan could erode the deterrent power of the U.S. in the region, the prime minister suggested that these concerns are unfounded.
He had said earlier that the government would strive to hammer out accords with local governments on relocation issues.
Meanwhile, in Washington on Wednesday, the commander of U.S. Marine Corps forces in the Pacific said that the U.S. hopes to share bases with the Self-Defense Forces in the event that some U.S. troops move out of Okinawa to other parts of Japan.
“If you want to move forces from Okinawa to the mainland, we should look to do that in a manner that enhances our ability to operate with the Self-Defense Forces,” Lt. Gen. Wallace Gregson told reporters.
“In particular, we’ve advocated for some time combined bases. Instead of having a U.S. base and a Japanese base side by side, put them all under the same commander.
“It’s Japan. So it should be a Japanese commander.”
Gregson cited the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Fuji in Shizuoka Prefecture and its Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture as examples of U.S. Marines and the SDF integrating their operations.
He added, however, that the Japanese government should make the decision on relocation sites. “We are open to any location, but it’s up to the government of Japan,” he said.
Camp Fuji is near the East Fuji Maneuver Area, jointly used by U.S. forces and SDF troops. Iwakuni Air Station shares the runway with the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s air base.
Gregson seemed less than enthusiastic on the idea of transferring a large amount of U.S. troops from Okinawa to overseas sites, such as Guam and Hawaii.
“We are certainly open to consideration of any options, but it’s also got to start with what is the basic strategic question we are trying to resolve,” he said.
“The rise of this war on terrorism has not changed the great geopolitical issues in the Pacific, and as long as those remain and as long as both of our nations, the United States and Japan, see a purpose for U.S. forces to be in the Western Pacific, then I think the bases in Japan are absolutely essential.”
Okinawa has been seeking to reduce its burden in terms of hosting the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan.
Gregson also said the 1996 agreement between Japan and the U.S. on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa should be kept intact.
He called for its implementation “as early as possible.”
Rice agrees on Okinawa
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice agreed Wednesday that the burden shouldered by Okinawa in hosting the U.S. military presence in Japan should be reduced.
On the realignment issue, Machimura told Rice it is important to make the security functions of the U.S. forces in Japan more efficient, while at the same time reducing the burden on Okinawa and other communities that host U.S. military bases, a Japanese official told reporters.
Rice replied that she is well aware of the Okinawa issue and said it is important to maintain momentum in talks between the two countries on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, the official said.
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