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Saturday, May 17, 2003

Osaka ready to make Aegis cruiser feel unwelcome


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Municipal officials here said Friday they will ask the United States to withdraw its request to sail an Aegis cruiser into Osaka bay later this month, citing concerns over a possible terrorist attack.

"The recent attack in Saudi Arabia plus the anger many Osaka residents feel toward the U.S. for the war on Iraq is still fresh," an official at the city's port authority said on condition of anonymity. "We can't deny the possibility of a terrorist attack in Osaka harbor."

On May 12, U.S. Consulate officials in Osaka unofficially informed the city of plans for the USS Cowpens, a 9,600-ton cruiser equipped with the Aegis air-defense system that is forward-deployed at the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, to visit Osaka between May 31 and June 4. The purpose of the visit, according to the port authority, was to allow crew members to relax and the ship to refuel.

As of Friday, the city said no official notification of the visit had been received. When such notification is received, possibly sometime next week, an official request that the ship stay away will be issued, the official said.

U.S. Consulate officials refused to answer questions about the planned visit, saying that it has not been U.S. policy to discuss such visits since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

Under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, the United States has the right to use any facility in Japan it deems necessary for its operations, whether or not local governments agree to the use of those facilities.

Visits by U.S. naval ships to the Kansai region are particularly sensitive. In April 2002, the USS Blue Ridge, also forward-deployed to Japan, entered Osaka harbor despite an official request from the port authority not to do so.

Since 1975, the neighboring Kobe port has required all foreign naval vessels entering the harbor to declare formally if they are carrying nuclear weapons, which the U.S. refuses to do.



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The Japan Times

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