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Japan, US split over military base relocation costs

Written by: Staff

Tokyo, March 24: Japan and the United States are still divided over how much Tokyo should pay to move US Marines to Guam from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, Japan's foreign minister said today (Mar 24, 2006).

The two allies are struggling to wrap up a plan on relocating US troops by an end-March deadline.

''These are negotiations...so it's natural that there is quite a gap,'' Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters.

The two sides agreed last October on a plan to reorganise the approximately 50,000 US military personnel in Japan.

Included in the plan was a shift of 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam. Washington has since offered to raise that to 8,000 Marines.

Negotiators meeting in Tokyo are trying to finalise details of the plan by the end of the month, but squabbling over the funding and opposition from Japanese communities worried about noise and crime associated with the bases threatens to delay the deal.

''We want them (negotiators) to make efforts to reach an agreement by the end of March,'' Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference.

''On the other hand, we must explain sincerely to the local people,'' Abe added, in a sign an agreement might be delayed.

Washington has proposed that Tokyo pay 75 percent of the estimated 10 billion dollars it will cost to move the Marines to Guam, while Japan wants to reduce the bill and provide at least some of the funds in the form of loans because of its huge public debt.

The plan is part of Washington's global strategy to make its forces more flexible. Another stated goal in Japan is to reduce tensions with communities that host US bases, especially in Okinawa, host to about half the US military in the country.

Talks earlier this week between Japanese defence officials and the mayor of Nago City on Okinawa failed to patch up differences over the proposed relocation of the US Marines' Futenma air base from a crowded part of the island to an area straddling another base and the Nago coast.

Defence minister Fukushiro Nukaga declined to comment on the chances Nago could be persuaded to agree to the plan.

''We confirmed that we would try to set some direction,'' Nukaga told reporters on Friday, referring to previous meetings with the mayor. ''I want to deal with this constructively and I believe Nago is doing the same.''


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