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Japan, US Clear Last Big Hurdle for Defense Realignment


The last major stumbling block has been cleared for the United States and Japan to initiate a realignment of American forces in Japan. The breakthrough came when the two allies agreed on dividing the cost of transferring thousands of U.S. Marines from southern Japan to a U.S. island in the western Pacific.

The defense chiefs of Japan and the United
States, standing alongside each other outside the Pentagon, said they had reached an agreement on sharing the cost of moving eight thousand U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Japan's Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga says Tokyo will contribute $6 billion of the total cost, which will exceed $10 billion. The Japanese share will include some loans.

Nukaga says during their meeting Sunday, the two allies agreed on all points related to moving the Marines.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the deal will improve security for both countries.

"We have come to an understanding that we both feel is in the best interests of our countries," he says.

The agreement came after several rounds of talks failed to agree on cost sharing.

The United States had originally asked Japan to pay 75 percent of the move - about seven-and-a-half billion dollars.

The deal paves the way to finalize the overall restructuring plan for the U.S. military in Japan - something that has been in the works for more than a decade. A general agreement was reached last October but negotiators missed their goal of finalizing the plan last month.

Under the accord, the Japanese will take on a greater role for their own defense and further integrate their operations with U.S. forces in Japan as part of upgrading the relationship into an alliance beyond the Asia-Pacific region.

The plan includes moving a Marine airfield from a congested urban area on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa to a more isolated area. In addition several hundred U.S. Army soldiers now in the United States will transfer to a small base near Tokyo.

Secretary Rumsfeld says the realignment is the latest chapter in what he called the historic relationship between the two former World War Two enemies.

"The understandings we've come to suggest to me that it will continue as a very close and important alliance between our two countries," Rumsfeld says.

Japanese officials on Monday said they hope a final round of talks in the coming days will clear the way for Nukaga, Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso to meet and sign the pact in early May.

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