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U.S. official in Okinawa stresses importance of keeping Marines.

NAHA, Japan, May 19 Kyodo

U.S. Consul General in Okinawa Prefecture Thomas Reich stressed the necessity Thursday of keeping some U.S. Marines in the prefecture to maintain deterrence, following a recent bilateral agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

The bilateral agreement finalized May 1 calls for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Futemma Air Station's heliport functions from a populated city center to a coastal region within Japan's southernmost prefecture, which is close to Taiwan.

''Part of the agreement calls for leaving the combat units in Okinawa for deterrent purposes and this is the best place for them,'' Reich said. ''And these units need to be stationed together with the helicopter units.''

Reich noted the realignment will help reduce burdens on Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of the U.S. military forces in Japan.

He said transferring about 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam represents a major reduction and that returning the land for U.S. military facilities south of Kadena Air Base in Okinawa ''matters the most'' because the facilities are located in densely populated areas.

But he ruled out the possibility of the bilateral agreement being revised in the wake of a counterproposal for building a ''tentative'' heliport at Camp Schwab. Okinawa Prefecture made the proposal to the central government.

''The proposal for a heliport is not our plan. Our plan includes a runway, and the heliport doesn't have that,'' he said.

He expressed hope that the agreement would receive local support, apparently noting conservative candidates have been beating anti-U.S. forces politicians in local elections in recent years.

''But I think that the facts show that the silent majority of the Okinawan voters tends to have a more flexible, or you can say, realistic attitude toward bases,'' he said. ''You can see that from the way they vote.''

On the shared use of U.S. bases in Okinawa by Japan's Self-Defense Forces, also included in the agreement, Reich said it ''maximizes the deterrent power'' of the U.S.-Japan alliance.

He addressed possible local concerns about such joint operations, saying, ''We are confident that we can do this kind of joint training and joint use and still be sensitive to local people.''

Reich dismissed the notion that the bilateral agreement might be affected by a leadership change in the Japanese administration expected in September as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has said he will step down.

''I don't think that the simple change of leadership is going to suddenly undo the three years of discussion between huge numbers of government officials from both countries,'' he said of the efforts to craft the agreement. ''That is not the way the strong healthy alliance works.''
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Date:May 22, 2006
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