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US official faults Japan attitude on bases-paper

Written by: Staff

Tokyo, Mar 17: The United States is unhappy that Japanese officials involved in talks to relocate American troops are putting priority on assuaging local opposition, a senior US official was quoted as saying in a major daily today.

Washington is concerned that many Japanese officials are not focused on the importance of the security alliance, US Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless was quoted as saying in an interview with the Asahi Shimbun.

The two sides are working to seal a deal on the realignment of US forces in Japan by the end of March, but talks have been bogged down by opposition from Japanese communities concerned about noise, accidents and crime associated with US bases.

The plan to reorganise the approximately 50,000 US troops in Japan, including a proposed shift of 7,000 Marines to Guam from the southern island of Okinawa, is part of Washington's global strategy to make its forces more flexible.

In the latest sign of local opposition, the mayor of Iwakuni in western Japan yesterday demanded that central government scrap a plan to expand a nearby US base after the proposal was overwhelmingly voted down in a referendum last weekend.

The Asahi quoted Lawless as saying the problem was that the debate tended to focus on local communities' trivial concerns.

But he said Washington was willing to revise some proposals already agreed with Tokyo in October, including base reshuffling on Okinawa, reluctant host to the bulk of US forces in Japan.

The US official was also quoted as saying Washington would not insist on reaching a final agreement by end of March.

In the deal reached in October, the two sides had agreed to relocate a US Marine heliport within Okinawa as a prerequisite for moving Marines to Guam, but the Okinawa governor has insisted that Tokyo review the plan.

Japanese cabinet ministers, however, denied a report in the Sankei Shimbun newspaper that they had agreed to alter the Okinawa heliport plan.


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