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Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
Panetta prods on Futenma move
By ALEX MARTIN
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked Japanese leaders Tuesday to move forward with the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.
Panetta is on his first visit to Japan since he assumed his post in July from his predecessor, Robert Gates. On Tuesday, the second day of his three day visit, he met with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa.
Panetta has stressed Washington's commitment to maintaining a strong military presence in the Pacific despite calls within the U.S. for defense spending cuts, vowing that any budget ax won't affect forces in the Pacific.
At the outset of his meeting with Ichikawa, Panetta urged that Japan follow through with the long-standing agreement to relocate the Futenma airbase from densely populated Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko district in Nago, both on Okinawa island.
Ichikawa said the government intended to submit an environmental impact assessment report by year's end to the prefectural government, a key step in pushing the relocation, which is strongly opposed in Okinawa.
Earlier, Genba told Panetta that the government will continue deliberations on whether to relax the nation's weapons export ban, a move that could boost Japan's military capacities and allow the U.S. to engage in joint arms development projects. Noda also vowed stronger bilateral security ties.