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Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010

Futenma can wait till May: U.S. defense envoy


Staff writer

A U.S. defense official said Monday in Tokyo that the United States will wait until May for Japan to review the relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and is willing to renegotiate the issue if necessary.

Wallace Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said in a speech hosted by the government-affiliated Japan Institute of International Affairs that the plan to move Futenma to the Henoko area near the city of Nago in northern Okinawa Prefecture was a joint decision, not one imposed on Japan by the United States.

"We certainly understand the need for the new government to re-examine" the issue, Gregson said. "When we say the Americans have another plan, well, our plan is based on our alliance relationships, and if we have to go back to negotiating, we will go back to negotiating."

While noting the plan took years of negotiations to finalize, Gregson stressed the relocation of the air base was only one part of the 2006 road map for realigning U.S. forces in Japan for 21st century security threats, including missiles from nuclear North Korea and military modernization by China.

"Amidst all of the focus on a single airfield, it is all too easy to forget that the realignment road map encompasses some 19 different elements involving strategic realignments of both U.S. and Japanese force posture and capabilities on both U.S. and Japanese territories," Gregson said. "It is important to remember that these agreements were not developed in a vacuum but were designed specifically with the complexities of the 21st century security environment in mind."

Gregson, a former marine commander in Okinawa, stressed that having a U.S. presence on the island is important. He said the Marine Air-Ground Task Force in Okinawa has the core capabilities of an air, land and sea force.

"Because all of these elements are located in Okinawa, the marines have the ability to mix and match requirements to meet the specific requirements of any contingency, allowing for rapidly deployable and immediately employable capabilities to be made immediately available," Gregson said. "As a result, the marines are often our first responders in many contingencies, including natural disasters and emergencies."



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