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Monday, July 24, 2000

Okinawans aware of, support U.S. forces' vital role: Clinton


Staff writer

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — The majority of people living in Okinawa support the U.S. military presence in their prefecture, U.S. President Bill Clinton said Sunday morning.

Clinton made the comment at the tail-end of a rather impromptu news conference with the White House press pool. As the president began heading away to begin talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of the reporters beckoned him a final time, inquiring as to why the U.S. maintains bases in this far-flung prefecture.

Clinton turned back and responded: "We're here because we still have security needs here.

"As long as we're good citizens, most Okinawans understand and appreciate our presence. But they do bear a disproportionate burden of the U.S. military presence (in Japan), and we must do what we can to reduce the burden.

"But we have not yet reached the time when the Japan-U.S. security partnership requires no presence of U.S. forces in Northern Asia."

The comments were the last Clinton made publicly before leaving the summit to return to Washington and the ongoing Middle East peace talks at Camp David, Md.

Those negotiations are nearly two weeks old.

"Nothing is ever agreed to until everything is agreed to. But the negotiators have tried hard," Clinton told reporters during the informal question-and-answer session. "They have not wasted their time."

Clinton also touched on several issues that came up during the three-day Group of Eight summit, including genetically modified organisms and foods. There is strong concern about the safety of GMO foods in the European Union and Japan, and the president called for multilateral discussions to proceed based on science.

The president, however, said the EU was being too cautious. "All I ask is that decisions be made on clear science, and everything I've seen says genetically modified foods are safe," Clinton said.

Blair, however, appeared to disagree. "I just hope we have an open and fair debate on the issue," he said. "Who knows what the judgment will be in 10, 20, or 30 years on this new science?"

Japan has been importing and consuming GMO soybeans from the U.S. for about a decade now.

Although 2000 marks the first official year of the fully integrated Group of Eight nations, with Russia's full entry, Clinton said there are still some issues that Russia would be excluded from.

"For all practical purposes, the Russians are G8 members. But there are still some decisions that have to be taken by the G7 as creditor nations. It's purely a question of financial necessity," Clinton said.



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