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Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

CABINET INTERVIEW

New defense chief promises less local burden from U.S. bases


Staff writer

The government will reduce the burden on communities with U.S. military bases by facilitating cooperation between the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military, Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga said Tuesday.

News photo
Fukushiro Nukaga

The new defense chief said in an interview that the government will decide when to withdraw the Ground Self-Defense Forces from its reconstruction mission in the southern Iraq city of Samawah after looking at political progress there and the plans of the other U.S.-led coalition nations with troops deployed in the region.

This is the second time Nukaga, an expert on security issues in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has been appointed director general of the Defense Agency.

Speaking about the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, Nukaga said, "By upgrading cooperation between Japan and the U.S., we will guarantee national security and reduce the burden" on local communities.

Communities affected by the realignment, particularly those in Okinawa, have voiced opposition to changes agreed to Saturday by Tokyo and Washington.

Nukaga said that joint use of U.S. bases in Japan, expanded joint training and increased interoperability will allow the two nations to maintain deterrence and at the same time reduce the burdens placed on communities.

The new defense chief said the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty states that Tokyo will provide bases and facilities to U.S. forces so it can protect Japan.

"This is valid on condition that Japanese citizens shoulder a certain level of the burden for the U.S. to ensure Japan's security," he said. "The defense agency will sincerely explain (this agreement) to local governments to gain their understanding."

Nukaga added that he will visit local government leaders, including those in Okinawa, Kanagawa and Yamaguchi prefectures, in the near future to give them thorough explanations on the interim report Japan and the U.S. agreed to over the weekend in Washington.

According to the report, the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station will be relocated to Camp Schwab and a section of shallow water offshore, and 7,000 marines in Okinawa Prefecture will be transferred to Guam.

The report also stated that the U.S. Army will upgrade its headquarters at Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture and the navy will relocate carrier-based aircraft from Kanagawa's Atsugi base to the U.S. Marine Corps' Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

During intense negotiations between the two countries on the Futenma relocation, Nukaga, then the LDP's security panel chief, presented the idea to build the new airport in a barracks area at Camp Schwab.

His proposal was the basis of the alternative plan that ended the deadlock in the bilateral talks.

On the SDF's peace cooperation activities overseas, Nukaga said the LDP and New Komeito are trying to draft a bill to include overseas humanitarian activities as a core SDF mission.

"The SDF currently is dispatched by separate legislation enacted for each mission, such as the peacekeeping-operations law, special legislation to support Iraq and antiterrorism legislation," he said. "But it is better to create an environment where they could respond promptly to a different situations."

He said he will closely watch the ruling parties' moves on the bill, planned for the next ordinary Diet session in January.



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