• Kyodo, Staff Report

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Tokyo and Washington said Wednesday they have agreed to revise a 2006 bilateral accord aimed at transferring U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, effectively no longer making the redeployment contingent upon construction of a replacement airfield by 2014.

The two sides said they have already started formal negotiations on moving some of the marines to Guam before the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa. The plan, based on a 2006 bilateral accord, called for moving 8,000 marines and their dependents to Guam from the Futenma base upon the 2014 completion of the replacement airfield on the Henoko coast of Nago farther north on Okinawa Island.

Intense local opposition has meant virtually no progress has been made on the relocation base, and both nations have had to reflect this in their budgets.

In a joint press release, Japan and the United States also said they are discussing the possibility of specifically separating the base’s relocation and the return of some military facilities and land occupied by the American military south of the U.S. Air Force Kadena base in Okinawa.

The new policy will entail a revision to the 2006 agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, under which tangible progress on relocating the Futenma base was set as a precondition for moving the 8,000 marines and their dependents, who at the time numbered around 9,000, from Okinawa to Guam.

In the meantime, the plan to relocate Futenma from the densely populated Ginowan to the less crowded coastal area in Nago will move forward, according to the statement.

“This is significant progress in deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance,” Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba told reporters Wednesday.

Genba also denied that the long-stalled relocation of the Futenma base would be delayed even further because of the decision to revise the accord.

“I would like to clearly state that this (revision) in no way confirms that the Futenma air station will remain at its current location,” Genba explained.

The Pentagon is considering moving about 4,700 marines from Okinawa to Guam, while deploying 3,300 on a rotational basis to various locations in the Pacific, including Hawaii, Australia and the Philippines, according to sources.

During bilateral talks on the realignment, Washington proposed moving around 4,700 of the 8,000 marines to Guam in advance and 1,500 marines to the Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, other sources close to the negotiations said.

But the statement does not refer to the specifics of the proposal, possibly in light of growing concern in Okinawa that the advance transfer of marines would lead to the Futenma base remaining at its present site, as well as strong local opposition to the additional deployment of marines to Iwakuni.

The Obama administration has been under pressure from Congress to cut spending, but at the same time is seeking to bolster the U.S. military presence in Asia, mainly in response to China’s military buildup.

The U.S. plans to transform Guam into a regional security hub to enhance the geographical distribution and operational capabilities of its forces.

Fierce local opposition has for years stalled the relocation of the Futenma base within Okinawa and proved a major snag to Washington’s plans to beef up its forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

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