Japan Pledges to Begin US Base Relocation in Okinawa by Year-End

Posted October 25th, 2011 at 10:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Japanese Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa told his U.S. counterpart, Leon Panetta, Tuesday that Japan will complete by the end of 2011 an environmental assessment on the planned transfer of a key U.S. military base in Okinawa to another location on the island.

At a joint news conference in Tokyo, Panetta welcomed Ichikawa's promise to submit the assessment – the first of several steps for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from a residential area to a nearby coastal site.

The U.S. defense secretary reiterated that progress on the Futenma relocation is important to the planned redeployment of 8,000 U.S. service personnel from Okinawa to Guam.

The two officials also reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan security alliance as a cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

On Monday, Panetta visited U.S. forces at an air base west of Tokyo. He arrived at the base from the Indonesian resort island of Bali, where he attended a meeting of Southeast Asian defense ministers. He told the U.S. troops that Washington is determined to maintain and strengthen its military presence in Asia.

Panetta also said he appreciates China's restrained reaction to a recent $5.85 billion U.S. arms sale to Taiwan, including an upgrade of its fleet of F-16 jet fighters.

He said China has handled the decision in a “professional and diplomatic way,” possibly because it was given advance notice of the decision. He said he will continue to work for better military-to-military relations with China.

Panetta is making his first visit to Asia since he moved from CIA director to defense secretary in July. He concludes his trip in South Korea, where he is expected to discuss diplomatic efforts to achieve a resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs.