U.S. officials told the governor of Okinawa on Wednesday that a U.S. forces presence in his prefecture is key to the U.S. commitment to defend Japan.
Officials from the U.S. State and Defense Departments told Takeshi Onaga in a meeting in Washington that the United States and Japan shared "an unwavering commitment" to building a new base for U.S. Marines on Okinawa Island, a State Department statement said.
"The United States' troop presence in Okinawa is fundamental to our treaty commitment to the defense of Japan," the statement said.
Onaga was elected governor last year largely due to his stand against U.S. bases in Okinawa. He and many Okinawans reject a proposal to transfer the operations of U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma to a proposed replacement base off Henoko Bay, and insist that Futenma should simply be closed.
The U.S. and Japan agreed in 1996 to close the Futenma base, which is in a populous area. But plans to replace it stalled because of opposition from residents based on issues with noise, pollution and crime.
Okinawa residents have long resented the fact that they not only suffered a devastating land battle during World War II but now host tens of thousands of U.S. troops and U.S. military facilities that take up 18 percent of the main island's area.
Kyodo News quoted Onaga as saying after his State Department meeting that he had warned the U.S. officials "construction of a (replacement) base will not be implemented smoothly if things keep going as they currently are."