An apologetic U.S. government on Thursday removed a senior U.S. official from his post over disparaging remarks he allegedly made about Okinawa.

The U.S. government replaced Kevin Maher, director of the Office of Japan Affairs at the U.S. State Department, with Rust Deming, former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, the embassy said. The appointment is effective immediately, it said.

Meanwhile, visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met with newly appointed Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto Thursday morning and offered his personal and the government’s official apology.

“I need to take this opportunity to personally and on behalf of the U.S. government to convey to you our deepest regret for the current controversy concerning alleged statements about Okinawa from one of our senior diplomats,” Campbell said to Matsumoto. “I just want to underscore that these in no way reflect the attitudes of warmth and gratitude and friendship that the United States has for the people of Okinawa and we are deeply apologetic for this controversy.”

Campbell also announced that U.S. Ambassador John Roos would head to Okinawa later Thursday to apologize personally to locals. After the meeting, Matsumoto told reporters that he conveyed to Campbell that the statements deeply hurt the Japanese people but also stressed the need to strengthen bilateral ties.

“You cannot take back words once they come out and we are taking them seriously, but Japan-U.S. ties are very important and (we need to) deepen the relationship,” Matsumoto said. “If the media reports (on Maher’s statements) are true, they deeply hurt the sentiments not only of the Okinawans but of the Japanese public and we cannot tolerate that.”

In December, Maher, former consul general in Okinawa, met with 14 students of American University who were on their way to Japan to visit Tokyo and Okinawa. At the private meeting, he called Okinawans “lazy” and “masters of manipulation and extortion of Tokyo,” according to notes compiled by several students.

Maher also allegedly said the U.S. had a “very good deal” regarding Japan’s financial contribution in support of U.S. bases and noted it would be “bad” for the U.S. if Japan revised its Constitution to end the U.S. military presence.

Tori Miyagi, a 20-year-old American University student who attended the meeting, said he was shocked at Maher’s statements.

“I was shocked that a diplomat would say such hurtful things about our allies,” Miyagi, a fourth-generation Japanese-American whose family came from Okinawa, told The Japan Times. “Japan is our most important ally and partner, but that is not language you use if you talk about a real partner.”

Miyagi, one of the students who took notes on Maher’s statements, stood by the accuracy of the notes but said they were not a transcript because the meeting was not recorded.

He also said that neither Maher nor anyone else from the State Department said the meeting was off the record.

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