The government still hopes to finalize plans to realign the U.S. military presence in Japan by the Friday deadline although it has yet to win consent from affected communities, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Monday.
In a last-ditch effort to finalize the entire plan, Japan and the United States will hold senior working-level talks in Washington on Thursday and Friday, the Foreign Ministry and Defense Agency said.
“We basically think that it is desirable to reach a conclusion during this month,” Abe said.
Japan will be represented in the talks by Kazuyoshi Umemoto, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, and Hironori Kanazawa, deputy head of the Defense Agency’s Bureau of Defense Policy. The U.S. team will be led by U.S. Defense Deputy Undersecretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs Richard Lawless.
The upcoming talks come after the same officials met in Tokyo and ended two days of informal talks last Friday without finalizing the plans.
Last week’s talks are believed to have focused on a U.S. request for Japan to pay, through outright grants and loans, 75 percent of the $10 billion cost for moving about 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa, most of whom will go to Guam.
Japan is also believed to have sounded out the U.S. on the possibility of extending funds in loans after assessing exactly how the amount has been estimated so the funding will not aggravate Japan’s deficit-ridden finances.
Asked whether the two countries will finalize the plan at a ministerial meeting — dubbed the two-plus-two meeting of foreign affairs and defense chiefs — Abe said, “That would be the best form,” while pointing to the difficulty of scheduling it.
Tokyo and Washington have been trying to compile the final realignment package by the end of this month based on an interim report agreed to by both countries in October.
Nation split on cost
Roughly one in two Japanese polled over the weekend said they were not keen on the idea of shouldering some of the cost of relocating U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, a Kyodo News survey released Monday showed.
The poll showed 51.3 percent were negative about the cost sharing, with 37 percent saying Japan should not be shouldering too much of the cost and 14.3 percent saying Tokyo should not finance any part of the move.
At the same time, however, 45.3 percent said they were positive about financing it, with 2.4 percent saying Japan should pay as much as possible and 42.9 percent saying Tokyo should bear the cost to some extent.
Support for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi meanwhile inched down to 50.4 percent from 51.8 percent in the previous poll in February, according to the survey conducted Saturday and Sunday on 1,036 people.