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Obama may review US, Japan pact

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Japanese government officials believe that the Alliance Transformation and Realignment Agreement (ATARA) between the U.S. government and Japan should be revisited and reviewed, which would cause a delay in the relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines to Guam.

And apparently, President-elect Barack Obama’s diplomatic staff agree.

Democratic Party of Japan vice president Seiji Maehara said recently that President-elect Barack Obama’s diplomatic staff considers the proposed relocation plans of Marines from the Futenma base to Camp Schwab in Nago, “unfeasible,” according to the Mainichi Shimbun. 

Maehara had met with Obama representatives during a June visit to the U.S.

Maehara said that it was at that time when both parties recognized that the proposed relocation is impossible on a practical level. Maehara said this during a lecture he gave in Tokyo last Wednesday.

Maehara also said that a fresh look at the Guam relocation needs to be taken into account, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.With President-elect Barack Obama at the helm, expectations are surging in Okinawa Prefecture that the incoming administration will finally address the longstanding problem since the Okinawan prefectural government is not in agreement with the Japanese-U.S. ATARA agreement, according to the Daily Yomiuri.

This concern stems from plans that would relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture to Camp Schwab in Nago, a northeastern coastal area.

Okinawa Prefecture has been demanding that the Futenma base be relocated as far as possible off the shore of the Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab in Nago instead of at a site built on the landfill on the camp’s coastline as agreed upon by both governments. 

The prefecture said that the demand is aimed at minimizing noise pollution and addressing the safety concerns of local residents. In addition, environmental groups are opposing the planned relocation.

If the situation remains unchanged, the Okinawan prefectural governor may refuse to issue a landfill permit that is required as part of the relocation plans since the surface of the waters involved are under the jurisdiction of the prefectural government. 

Amendments

Plans to return the Futenma base to land owners were agreed on in 1996 and again in 2005, alongside a program to move 8,000 U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam. However, the local government is now seeking amendments to the plan, and Maehara believes that the whole idea should be reconsidered, according to the Mainichi Shimbun.

Japanese senior officials at the Foreign Ministry say that the relocation of Futenma Air Station hinges more heavily on Washington’s military strategy in East Asia as a whole rather than its political considerations of Japan-US bilateral relations, according to the Daily Yomiuri.

There is likely to be little difference between the administrations of President George W. Bush and Obama when it comes to U.S. military strategy in the East Asian region, according to the ministry officials.

However, there is the possibility that the Futenma relocation issue could develop into the first major problem Japan faces in its relations with the U.S. after Obama’s inauguration, according to the Daily Yomiuri.

The U.S. Defense Department, in light of the planned transfer of the Marine Corps personnel from Okinawa to Guam, is set to assign funds for improving the facilities at the Guam military base in its budget draft for fiscal 2010. The Pentagon will present the draft to Congress in February 2009.

Delay

Some U.S. officials in charge of budgetary matters, however, have questioned the Pentagon’s planned spending. Although the transfer to Guam of the Marines form Okinawa must be carried out in tandem with the relocation of Futenma Air Station, the relocation process has already been considerably delayed, Japanese government officials have pointed out.

To support this statement, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said at a Nov. 5 press conference in New York, that the transfer of the 8,000 Marines to Guam would likely be delayed, noting: “We won’t be done by 2014, or maybe even 2015.”

“In order to construct a trusting relationship that can deliver on its agreements, we should drop the current plans and create a new one,” Maehara said. “The American side is aware of the issues,” he added.

ATARA is the realignment roadmap agreement made between the U.S. government and the government of Japan on May 1, 2006, which would relocate approximately 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents to Guam. 

Under this agreement, the two governments will share the estimated $10.27 billion cost of facilities and infrastructure improvements necessary to support the relocation. This includes $2.80 billion in direct cash contributions, $740 million in financial instruments to assist with utility infrastructure, and the $2.55 billion in financial instruments to fund a housing public/private venture. The U.S. will fund the remaining costs, according to a Sept. 15, 2008 report on Department of Defense Planning Efforts for Guam.

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