Japan, US agree: Marines to leave Okinawa

The United States and Japan are renegotiating the terms of a controversial 2006 agreement, and plan to move thousands of US Marines from Okinawa, the BBC reported.

The 2006 agreement aimed to remove 8,000 Marines from Okinawa on the condition that the air base was relocated on the island. However, the deployment of troops was delayed based on this part of the plan.

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“We are committed to reducing the burden on Okinawa,” Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported. “This marks a major step forward in deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

But the US and Japan have agreed to separate these two parts of the plan and allow US Marines to relocate to Guam by 2014, The New York Times reported. Both governments said they were willing to make “adjustments” to the six-year-old plan, created to reduce the US military’s presence on Okinawa, the Wall Street Journal reported. Specific troop numbers and details haven’t been released yet, but President Barack Obama will send about 4,500 Marines to Guam as a part of a plan which will cost as much as $21.1 million to expand the military’s presence on the island, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.

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Although plans to build a new base have been set aside during deployment, both the US and Japan insist the plans will remain alive. The original base will remain in use for now until a new one is built, which will most likely not be anytime soon.

The proposed base is considered to be widely unpopular in Okinawa, as many residents believe the current base should be closed and moved overseas or to another part of Japan, the WSJ reported. Residents claim the base only increases crime and pollution on their island.

The issue led to the 2010 resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, after he folded under US pressure and confirmed the deal, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.

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In a statement e-mailed to the news media, US Sen Jim Webb, a Democrat of Virginia, said today's announcement recognized that prior plans to move US bases in Asia had to be revised to continue to protect both the US and Japan. Assessments of US national security interests in the region by both the US Marine Corps and an independent body commissioned by the US Defense Department were required before more defense spending could be authorized by Congress, Webb said.

"Today’s announcement represents another acknowledgment by the governments of the United States and Japan that [a 2006 plan for changing the US defense posture] must be adjusted to preserve the vital strength of our alliance and the stability of the region," Webb said in the statement.


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