Gates starts Japan trip, rules out reopening talks on troops deal

Gates on Tuesday "ruled out" reopening negotiations on a deal to relocate a US airbase in Okinawa.

Gates starts Japan trip, rules out reopening talks on troops deal

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday "ruled out" reopening negotiations on a deal to relocate a US airbase in Okinawa, saying alternatives had proven "unworkable."

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party, however, ousted its conservative rivals in an August election, pledging to take a diplomatic stance less dependent on the United States.

"There are really, as far as we're concerned, no alternatives to the arrangement that was negotiated," Gates told reporters on his plane before arriving in Tokyo for meetings with Japanese officials.

"We've looked over the years at all of these alternatives and they are either politically untenable or operationally unworkable."

Gates' comments came before talks with Japan's new center-left government, which has struck a more independent stance towards the United States and said it wants to review the agreement on the presence of US forces.

Under the 2006 accord, the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Base would be closed and a new US base built in a coastal area of Okinawa island by 2014, with about 8,000 Marines transferred off the island to Guam.

Hatoyama has said he wants the base moved off the island. U.S. officials have ruled that out, saying it would undermine broader security arrangements that took 15 years to work out.

The US military presence on Okinawa has long angered residents because of aircraft noise and the risk of accidents, and crimes committed by US service personnel have caused friction with the local community.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Tokyo wanted to deal with the matter flexibly while heeding the views of Okinawa residents, many of whom feel they have borne an unfair share of the burden for the U.S.-Japan security alliance, as well as the stance of two tiny ruling coalition partners.

"We want to deal with this while reducing the burden on the people of Okinawa, taking into account the three-party coalition agreement and placing importance on the U.S.-Japan relationship," Hirano told a news conference.

The renewed debate over where to move the base has cast a cloud over a scheduled visit by Obama to Tokyo on November 12-13.

Okinawa, site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, hosts more than half of the 47,000 American troops stationed in Japan.

Gates also was due to visit Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday before heading to Slovakia for a NATO meeting of defense ministers on Friday.

He said he expected to discuss with his counterparts in Japan and South Korea economic and other possible assistance in support of the NATO-led occupation in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's government has announced it would give up a refueling work in the Indian Ocean.


Agencies

Last Mod: 20 Ekim 2009, 14:59
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