In first official,Foreign Minister Taro Kono asked the top commander of U.S. military forces in Okinawa on Saturday to take preventive measures in light of accidents and incidents involving American personnel and equipment in the prefecture.
The request made at the meeting with Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson in the prefectural capital of Naha came on the back of incidents including a crash-landing by a U.S. helicopter in October and the arrest of an allegedly drunk marine who was involved in fatal traffic accident that killed a resident last month.
“I think it is important to cooperate together for stable stationing of the U.S. military forces in Japan,” Kono told Nicholson during their talks. “We need to work together to secure the understanding of the local community and what it means to host U.S. military forces.”
It was Kono’s first visit to the prefecture since assuming his post.
“We want to make every possible effort to maintain the deterrence capability of Japan-U.S. alliance,” Kono said.
To that, Nicholson replied, “We understand our obligation to the community and we can do that better as well. We will continue to look at our behavior, our actions and how we represent our country.”
Referring to the recent actions of North Korea, Nicholson said, “(North) Korea has demonstrated their impact on this area and I want you to know that it has never been more important for the alliance between the U.S. and Japan and (South) Korea to work more closely.”
Despite only accounting for 0.6 percent of the country’s land mass, Okinawa is home to about 70 percent of the total area of land exclusively used by the U.S. military in Japan. People there have long been frustrated with noise, crimes and accidents connected to U.S. bases.
After meeting with Nicholson, Kono also met with Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga who urged the minister to give up a plan to relocate the U.S. Futenma air base to a less populated, coastal area on the main island.
Kono only told Onaga that the government will try to reduce the footprint of the U.S. bases in Okinawa.