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Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009

Gates: Japan must stick to Futenma deal


Staff writer

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Japan on Tuesday to stick with its agreements on relocating the functions of the Futenma air base in Okinawa Prefecture.

In talks with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in Tokyo, Gates said it is important that the new administration led by the Democratic Party of Japan delivers on the promises made by previous administrations, a Foreign Ministry official said.

Calling the plan to keep Futenma's operations within Okinawa the only feasible measure, the Pentagon chief urged Tokyo to reach a conclusion soon, the official said.

The relocation plan was hammered out by Washington and governments led by the DPJ's political foe, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the DPJ pledged in its policy platform for the Aug. 30 Lower House election to to move Futenma's operations outside Okinawa.

In response, Okada told Gates he is aware of the accord between the two governments, but domestic circumstances have changed. Citing some recent local elections won by opponents of the U.S. bases, Okada said Okinawans have called for a change in the relocation plan.

He told Gates that Tokyo will work on reaching a quick conclusion but asked the U.S. to be patient and understand Japan's change in government, according to the ministry official who briefed reporters.

On the DPJ's plan to withdraw the Maritime Self-Defense Force from its refueling mission in the Indian Ocean, Gates told Okada that Japan should decide what it can do to assist antiterrorism efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The ministry official said Gates expressed hope that Tokyo will come up with supportive measures to assist the global effort.

Okada replied that the DPJ is not in a position to submit a bill to extend the MSDF mission and is instead drawing up plans for Japan to contribute in the region in other ways.

Despite the sticking points, however, Okada and Gates agreed to strengthen bilateral ties, the official said.

Gates was quoted as saying Washington will stand with the DPJ as it becomes accustomed to governing and assured Okada that Tokyo "remains the cornerstone" of U.S. policy in the region.

The meeting was the first in Tokyo between the DPJ administration and a top U.S. official.

They agreed to continue exchanging opinions on global denuclearization and ruling out pre-emptive nuclear attacks, although Gates reiterated the need for flexibility to sustain the deterrence factor.

Okada and Gates did not exchange opinions on North Korea's nuclear development program.

Gates met with Okada on the first of his two days in Tokyo. He was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Wednesday.

His visit is laying the groundwork for President Barack Obama's scheduled trip to Japan next month.



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