Aso tries to win over Yamaguchi, Hiroshima on bases

Compiled From Kyodo, AP

Foreign Minister Taro Aso met Monday with leaders of communities hosting U.S. bases to seek local support for a planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Local governments have criticized and rejected the bilateral agreement on realignment ahead of March, when the two countries plan to release a final report on the matter.

Tokyo regards the Oct. 29 agreement as an interim deal, while Washington sees it as final.

In a meeting with Yamaguchi Gov. Sekinari Nii, Aso stressed the importance of the realignment plan, but Nii remained unconvinced, ministry officials said. Yamaguchi is home to the U.S. Marine Corps Iwakuni Air Station.

Nii said he cannot accept a planned relocation of carrier-based aircraft from Kanagawa Prefecture to the air station.

Aso inspected the base and met with Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara later in the day.

The mayor called on the national government to withdraw from the realignment plan, as he believes it will impose a heavy burden on local people.

Aso hopes to win local residents’ support for moving a U.S. carrier air wing to the town from its current base at the Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Iwakuni residents are concerned about increased noise and nighttime flight drills.

The realignment plan calls for a major restructuring of U.S. forces based in Japan, in part to reduce the burden on host communities. The plan calls for transferring 7,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Aso also went to neighboring Hiroshima Prefecture to meet with Gov. Yuzan Fujita, who is opposed to the plan due to similar concerns.

Many residents of areas that will have to host more military personnel oppose the realignment over worries about noise pollution, crime and other problems. Aso previously traveled to Okinawa Prefecture in November and visited Kanagawa in December to campaign for local understanding.

Top admiral apologizes

YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. (Kyodo) U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen offered an apology and condolences Monday over the murder of a 56-year-old woman allegedly committed by a U.S. sailor.

“On behalf of the United States Navy, I offer my most sincere apology and deepest heartfelt condolences to the family of Ms. Yoshie Sato, to her friends, the citizens of Yokosuka, and the people of Japan over this terrible incident,” Mullen said in a statement.

Some officials in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, where the slaying took place, say the apology reflects U.S. concern the incident may harm relations with local people at a time when it is planning on stationing a nuclear carrier there in 2008.

In the statement Mullen also called the incident a “horrific crime” and promised to do the utmost to earn back the respect and trust of the citizens of Japan while “fully cooperating with the authorities throughout the investigation and legal process.”

On Jan. 7, William O. Reese, a 21-year-old crew member of the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk was placed under arrest by Japanese police on suspicion of killing Sato and stealing 15,000 yen in Yokosuka on Jan. 3.

Interceptor tech test

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Japan and the United States plan to conduct a joint test in March off Hawaii of Japanese-developed technologies for an advanced interceptor missile under the joint project to develop a ballistic missile defense system, sources involved with Japan-U.S. relations said Sunday.

The technologies to be tested are a nose cone and infrared sensor for a larger and upgraded version of the Standard Missile-3 interceptor to be deployed on Aegis destroyers to defend against ballistic missiles.

The joint test follows the green light given by Tokyo in late December for Japan to proceed with joint development of the next-generation missile interceptor with the U.S.

It will be the first time the two nations will conduct a joint test of Japan’s technologies for the advanced SM-3.