The United States and Japan Monday finalized an agreement to reshape their military alliance, including a reduction of the U.S. Marine presence on Okinawa. Senior cabinet ministers of the two governments, meeting in Washington, also urged North Korea to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program.
The agreement to reduce the so-called "footprint" of U.S. forces on Okinawa was years in the making, and finalized here at a meeting involving Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Minister of State for Defense Fukishiro Nukaga.
The U.S. presence on Okinawa, which dates back to World War II, has been a key element of the security alliance. But friction between U.S. forces and local residents there has grown over the years as the island has become more populous and developed.
Under the agreement, to be carried out over the next eight years, about 8,000 U.S. Marines and their dependents will be redeployed to the U.S. Pacific island of Guam.
That will reduce the number of Marines on the southern Japanese island by more than one third.
Other U.S. Okinawa facilities, including the key Kadena air base, will be trimmed in size and the Marines' Futenma air station, particularly troublesome because of noise and other environmental concerns, will be relocated.
The two governments had long haggled over the cost of the $10-billion realignment program, and it was decided a week ago that Japan would finance just over 60 percent of the move.
At a news conference ending the "two-plus-two" ministerial, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said the painstakingly negotiated deal will assure the viability of the alliance, based he said on a stable, sustainable U.S. forward presence in the Pacific:
"We've reached agreement on detailed plans to relocate two U.S. airbases from urbanized to rural areas," said Donald Rumsfeld. "Together we've developed a realignment plan that will make Guam a key part of this alliance and the Pacific security architecture. We've incorporated re-alignments in the Japan Self-Defense Forces that complement U.S. realignments and will result in greater operational coordination than had existed previously."
Japanese defense chief Nukaga, for his part, said the agreement signals "a new start" in the bilateral defense relationship. In all, about 37,000 U.S. military personnel are currently stationed in Japan.
The four ministers also issued a joint political statement urging North Korea to return expeditiously and without preconditions to the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on its nuclear program, which have been idle since last November.
They also said the two governments will work closely on efforts to convince Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activity and cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation of its nuclear program.
They said they agreed on the need for concerted U.N. Security Council action on the issue.