World digest: Japan's foreign minister says U.S. base to stay on Okinawa

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Minister: U.S. base stays on Okinawa

Japan's new government appeared to bow to intensifying pressure from visiting top U.S. military officials Friday, saying it supports keeping a major U.S. Marine airfield on the southern island of Okinawa.

The move narrows a rift between the two alliance partners ahead of President Obama's visit in three weeks. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's administration, elected in a landslide in August, has suggested it would like to make changes to a 2006 agreement that would realign the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan, including moving 8,000 Marines to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

A major sticking point has been the future of Futenma Air Station, which under the pact would be relocated to a less crowded part of Okinawa. However, Hatoyama has suggested he would like the airfield moved off the island entirely.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, visiting Tokyo this week, insisted that Futenma must be relocated on the island, calling any other options "politically untenable and operationally unworkable." Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, added to that pressure Friday during meetings with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and other officials.

After his meeting with Mullen, Okada said that moving Futenma airfield off the tiny island "is not an option." He added, however, that it will be difficult to decide on a new site before Obama's Nov. 12-13 visit.

-- Associated Press


Biden wins backing on new defense plan

Vice President Biden made significant strides during a trip to the Central European countries of Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic this week toward relieving anxieties stirred up last month when the Obama administration scrapped a Bush-era plan for missile defense.

Biden won agreement Friday from the Czech Republic to join Obama's reconfigured missile defense system, just two days after Poland said it would also take part. Meanwhile, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen praised the new plan as offering defense for the West from future Iranian threats.

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