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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2006

Schieffer asks Iwakuni voters to consider the big picture


Staff writer

OSAKA — The U.S. ambassador to Japan on Wednesday urged voters in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, opposed to the realignment of the U.S. forces to put national and regional needs ahead of local concerns.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer fields questions at a news conference at the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka
U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Schieffer fields questions at a news conference at the U.S. Consulate General in Osaka.

Thomas Schieffer, speaking at a news conference in Osaka, said the March 12 plebiscite on whether to host U.S. carrier-borne aircraft is a positive sign of democracy, but added voters need to consider the big picture.

"What we hope the people in Iwakuni will focus on are the strategic implications (of the plebiscite) and the importance of Japan's alliance with the United States," he said. "Hopefully, this will not be lost in the local politics of various issues."

The plebiscite, announced by Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara on Tuesday, is widely expected to reject the plan to station the planes at the base. Although the vote is nonbinding, the mayor has said he will respect the results.

Moving the planes to Iwakuni is part of a larger agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan signed last October that has been opposed by many local governments likely to be affected by the changes.

On the issue of U.S. beef imports, Schieffer said the U.S. is working hard to regain the trust of Japanese consumers. The government suspended imports of U.S. beef late last month after spines, which are prohibited under an agreement between Tokyo and Washington, were discovered in a shipment of U.S. beef.

Schieffer praised the Kansai region as a good site for the G8 summit in 2008, noting President George W. Bush's visit to Kyoto last November went smoothly.

Kansai is pushing to host the upcoming summit after losing out to Okinawa in 2000.



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