NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos apologized to Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima Thursday over a U.S. State Department official’s reported remarks that disparaged people in the prefecture.
“I want to just offer my deep apologies and regrets regarding the recent reports that have caused deep offense in Okinawa,” the ambassador said during a meeting on his visit to the prefecture. “The words reported are reprehensive and in no way represent the views or policies of the United States of America.”
Roos vowed he and his government will redouble efforts to rebuild the “trust and respect that I know we have enjoyed over the years.”
In a lecture to U.S. university students in December, Kevin Maher, then head of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, described the people of Okinawa as “masters of manipulation and extortion,” according to a written account compiled by some of the students.
Maher, who has said the account was not accurate, was dismissed from the post, effective Thursday.
In the meeting at the prefectural office in Naha, Nakaima welcomed the sacking, calling it “a quick response.” But he said it may take time for Okinawa and the U.S. to restore mutual confidence.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he said the Okinawa people’s fury “will probably not abate easily.”
Earlier in the day, Nakaima sent a letter of protest handed to Raymond Greene, the U.S. consul general in Okinawa.
Greene also said Maher’s reported statements do not represent the views of the United States and regretted that the people of Okinawa had been angered by the incident.
The protest letter said the adverse effects of Maher’s alleged statements “could ruin past efforts made by Okinawa as well as the Japanese and U.S. governments to solve various problems.”
After meeting with the governor, Greene told reporters he regrets the situation as he believes it is important to deepen trust between the U.S. and the people in Okinawa.
Maher told Kyodo News that a written account students made of the briefing is “neither accurate nor complete.” He also said the briefing was off-the-record.
In Washington, asked if the remarks are a misunderstanding, Mark Toner, acting deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said at a daily briefing Wednesday that the U.S. “can’t confirm whether they (the remarks) are true or not or actually stated, but as reported, don’t accurately reflect the U.S. relationship with Okinawa” and with Japan.
The Ginowan Municipal Assembly adopted a resolution lashing out at Maher’s alleged remarks, which, it said, “were an unforgivable challenge to the people’s will.” The resolution further urged Maher to retract them and apologize.
The resolution also blasted Maher, a former consul general in Okinawa, for describing U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city as “not especially dangerous.”
“A helicopter crash occurred at Okinawa International University. There is immeasurable anxiety and fear among the citizens,” the resolution said, referring to a 2004 accident in which a USMC helicopter from Futenma crashed-landed at the nearby university, injuring its crew.
On Maher’s description of people in Okinawa as “masters of manipulation and extortion,” the resolution said, “It is absolutely unacceptable. Okinawa is treated as all but a colony.”
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