US to remove 9,000 Marines from Okinawa

WASHINGTON (AP) – About
9,000 U.S. Marines stationed on the Japanese island of Okinawa will be
moved to the U.S. territory of Guam and other locations in the
Asia-Pacific, including Hawaii, under a U.S.-Japan agreement announced
Thursday.

The move is part of a
broader arrangement designed to tamp down tensions in the U.S.-Japan
defense alliance stemming in part from opposition in Okinawa to what
many view as a burdensome U.S. military presence.

It also reflects a desire
by the Obama administration to spread U.S. forces more widely in the
Asia-Pacific region as part of a rebalancing of U.S. defense priorities
in the aftermath of a decade of war in the greater Middle East.

The agreement was outlined
in a joint statement issued Thursday night by Secretary of State Hillary
Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and their Japanese
counterparts.

Citing an “increasingly
uncertain security environment” in the Asia-Pacific region, they said
their agreement was intended to maintain a robust U.S. military presence
to ensure the defense of Japan.

“Japan is not just a close
ally, but also a close friend,” Panetta said in a separate comment. “And
I look forward to deepening that friendship and strengthening our
partnership as, together, we address security challenges in the region.”

The joint statement made no
mention of a timetable for moving the approximately 9,000 Marines off
of Okinawa. It said it would happen “when appropriate facilities are
available to receive them” on Guam and elsewhere.

Under the new agreement,
about 10,000 Marines will remain on Okinawa, which has been a key
element of the U.S. military presence in Asia for decades. The U.S. also
has a substantial Air Force presence on Okinawa.

“I think we have made some
progress and this plan offers specific and forward-looking action,” said
Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, who added that Japan wanted to
“reduce the burden on Okinawa.”

Japan, including Okinawa,
is a linchpin of U.S. strategy for deterring aggression in the region
and for reinforcing the Korean peninsula in the event North Korea
attacked South Korea.

The Obama administration
believes the new agreement with Japan will make the alliance more
sustainable, while also giving the Marines more regional flexibility.

Between 4,700 and 5,000
Marines will relocate from Okinawa to Guam, according to a U.S. defense
official who briefed reporters on some of the details before the
agreement was official announced in Tokyo and Washington.

The remainder of the 9,000
who are to relocate from Okinawa will move to Hawaii or be part of a
rotational presence in Australia and elsewhere in the region, the
official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he
was previewing the official announcement.

The official would not say
how many would be moved to Hawaii. Earlier this week, Hawaii Gov. Neil
Abercrombie said he expects around 2,700 Marines will be shifted there.

Of the $8.6 billion
estimated cost of relocating Marines to Guam, Japan agreed to pay $3.1
billion, the official said. The total cost includes an unspecified
amount for possible construction of new training ranges in the Northern
Mariana Islands that could be used jointly by U.S. and Japanese forces,
he said.

The agreement also calls
for a phased return to Japanese control of certain parcels of land on
Okinawa now used by the American military.

The shift of Marines from
Okinawa to Guam has been in limbo for years because it was linked to the
closure and replacement of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Okinawans
fiercely oppose Futenma and believe the base should simply be closed and
moved overseas or elsewhere in Japan. The U.S., however, has insisted
that Japan find a Futenma replacement on Okinawa.

That issue remains unresolved.

Although many Okinawans
welcome the reduction of troops, they believe their main island still
has too many bases on it, and say the military presence causes
congestion, leads to military-related crime and increases the
possibility of civilians who live near the facilities being injured in
accidents such as helicopter or aircraft crashes.

The whole dispute over the
U.S. military presence on Okinawa has its roots in the 1995 kidnapping
and rape of a schoolgirl by three American servicemen. Top U.S.
government officials publicly apologized for the crime, but tensions
continued to grow despite a strong desire by Tokyo and Washington to
maintain their historically close military and political alliance.

The accord was timed for
completion and public announcement before Japanese Prime Minster
Yoshihiko Noda's scheduled visit to Washington on Monday for talks with
President Barack Obama.

___

Associated Press writer Eric Talmadge contributed to this report from Tokyo.

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2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
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