• Kyodo

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The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a key defense bill that includes funding for the transfer of about 4,000 marines from Okinawa to Guam.

The bill for the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes an outline of defense budget plans, is expected to clear the Senate possibly next week and will then be authorized with the signature of President Barack Obama.

The U.S. Congress had suspended the disbursement of most of the funds needed to move the marines to the U.S. territory, putting the project’s feasibility in doubt.

But members of the Armed Services committees in both chambers agreed earlier this week to lift a freeze on the budget to ensure enactment of the act for fiscal 2015, which began Oct. 1.

The Japanese government welcomed the agreement as a move that could help efforts to reduce the presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of American military facilities in the country.

The U.S. and Japanese governments plan to transfer about 4,000 of the 19,000 marines stationed on Okinawa to Guam, based on a bilateral agreement, with Japan shouldering up to $2.8 billion (¥335.5 billion) of the $8.6 billion (¥1.03 trillion) estimated for the move.

The bill included a cost ceiling of some $8.7 billion (¥1.04 trillion) on the project to prevent expenses from snowballing.

Tokyo and Washington are also working on relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a major marine facility in the island, from densely populated Ginowan to a coastal site further north by Nago.

Japan and the United States agreed to transfer the marines to Guam and relocate the airfield as part of a U.S. plan to realign military forces in the Asia-Pacific area.

It has already been 18 years since both governments first agreed to relocate the Futenma base in 1996, but there is no sign the relocation will happen soon due to fierce local opposition.

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