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In a meeting in Honolulu on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed that Japan and the United States will begin consultations to further deepen their alliance, as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the current joint security treaty. They also agreed that the bilateral alliance has underpinned security in the Asia-Pacific region for the past 50 years.

The meeting represented an attempt by both nations to smooth high-level communications after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama postponed, until May, a decision on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (in the central part of Okinawa Island). The delay has caused friction between Japan and the U.S., and it is hoped that the meeting will help grease the wheels for the planned consultations.

The Futenma issue continues to cast a shadow over bilateral ties. While Mr. Okada reiterated that Japan will make a decision on the relocation by the end of May and said the issue should not be allowed to adversely affect the alliance, Ms. Clinton insisted that Japan implement a 2006 bilateral accord to move the Futenma function to the northern part of Okinawa Island as soon as possible.

It is crucial that the Hatoyama administration make a determined effort to resolve the Futenma issue at an early date.

Discussions about deepening the alliance will start in the first half of this year, with meetings between the two nations’ foreign and defense ministers. Although the discussions may cover Japan-U.S. cooperation on global issues such as the economy, climate change, nuclear nonproliferation and public health, the Hatoyama administration must know that a joint assessment of the security environment surrounding Japan is inevitable. The administration should fully prepare itself, and carefully consider how Japan should proceed in talks on the subject.

If the security-related issues are not sorted out early on, it may be difficult for the two countries to tackle other important issues with mutual trust and in an effective manner.

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