• The Associated Press


Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga and Foreign Minister Taro Aso left Sunday for Washington where Japan and the United States hope to strike a final agreement on plans to realign American troops stationed in Japan.

Nukaga and Aso are scheduled to meet Monday with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Agency spokesman Kimihito Aguin said in Tokyo.

The two sides have been negotiating details of the realignment, including giving Japan’s military greater responsibility for security in the Asia-Pacific region, since 2002.

Last week, Japan agreed to cover some $6 billion, or nearly 60 percent, of the cost of moving 8,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam, settling a final sticking point in the negotiations.

On Monday, the four officials are expected to finalize the U.S. troop realignment plans, which will be announced at a joint news conference after the talks, Aguin said. The meeting will be the first since October, when the four officials struck a preliminary agreement on the plan.

The changes in the American posture in Japan are part of a global military realignment.

However, some questions remain.

Japanese leaders have questioned a U.S. estimate that holds Tokyo responsible for $26 billion of the overall realignment of the U.S. military in Japan, including the Guam moving costs.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki called the figure “an asking price,” and indicated Japan was planning to bargain.

“I suspect the figure is inflated as part of the negotiations,” Tanigaki told a TV Asahi talk show. “The Finance Ministry will calculate and check everything very carefully.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe also said Thursday that Japan would seek clarification from Washington, as the figure had not been agreed upon and neither had Japan received any official request to shoulder the amount — which is more than 60 percent of Japan’s entire annual defense budget of $42 billion.

The planned realignment also has met with some opposition from local officials and residents in areas where U.S. bases are expected to be beefed up. They have argued that priority should be given to reducing U.S. forces and returning bases to Japanese control.

During his U.S. visit, Aso is expected to talk separately with Rice about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, U.S. beef imports to Japan — suspended since January after a shipment arrived containing banned body parts — and other bilateral issues.

He will then fly to Belgium, where he will meet with Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

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