Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga left for the United States on Friday in the hopes of meeting his U.S. counterpart about Japan’s share of the cost to relocate 8,000 U.S. Marines to Guam from Okinawa.
A meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is expected to be held at the Pentagon early Monday, but Tokyo is asking Washington to move up the talks.
“I think it is important to go there to directly give Japan’s position and discuss the issue frankly and sincerely, ” the defense chief said Friday morning.
An agency official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said moves were afoot to move up the meeting to Sunday.
The visit is aimed at breaking the deadlock over relocation costs that is preventing the two countries from finalizing plans to realign the U.S. military in Japan.
Tokyo and Washington remain at odds over how to pay for moving the marines to Guam despite several rounds of senior working-level talks. They have missed a self-imposed March 31 deadline to finalize the overall realignment plans.
The United States estimates the cost to move the marines will be $10 billion and wants Japan to pay 75 percent of it, or $7.5 billion. Japan has offered $3 billion and, last week, another $3 billion in loans.
It is widely speculated that the two defense chiefs aim to strike a deal over the weekend so they can hold a meeting together with the two foreign ministers around May 2 to finalize the realignment package.
Nukaga’s trip comes before another round of working-level talks between senior defense and foreign affairs officials from both sides set for Monday in Washington. The previous round ended last week in Tokyo.
The sweeping reorganization of U.S. forces and bases in Japan is aimed at boosting security cooperation and maintaining U.S. deterrence in the region while reducing the strain on communities hosting the bases. It is part of Washington’s global plans to make its military more mobile.