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Japanese Mayor Drops Opposition to US Carrier

After initially expressing strong opposition to the U.S. Navy's plan to base a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in their community, leaders of the city of Yokosuka have reversed course, to the relief of the U.S. and Japanese governments. 

Speaking to the Yokosuka municipal assembly, Mayor Ryoichi Kabaya said he has concluded it would be futile to try to stop the USS George Washington aircraft carrier from being based in the port city.

The mayor says Yokosuka must face the reality that having a nuclear-powered carrier at its port cannot be prevented.

The U.S. Navy plans to have the George Washington replace the USS Kitty Hawk, a conventionally powered vessel that will be retired in 2008.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told reporters that he welcomes the mayor's change of heart.

Abe says taking in recent developments concerning Japan's national security, hosting the vessel is the prudent decision.

Yokosuka had resisted pressure to accept the George Washington, arguing there were too many concerns about its safety.

The Japanese foreign minister on Monday gave the mayor a safety report about the carrier, which apparently eased those concerns.

In addition to having concerns about safety, many Japanese oppose all military use of nuclear power or weapons, because two cities - Hiroshima and Nagasaki - were devastated by U.S. atomic bombs at the end of World War II. They are the only cities hit by nuclear weapons.

The U.S. ambassador expressed appreciation for the Yokosuka decision and said "the U.S. government will continue to listen and seriously consider the views of local residents and political leaders" regarding the carrier.

Commander John Wallach, a Navy spokesman in Japan, says the George Washington's deployment will extend the good relationship Yokosuka and the Navy have enjoyed for more than 50 years.

"Having an aircraft carrier - one of our most capable aircraft carriers - as part of the forward-deployed naval forces in the western Pacific is very important. Not only does it enhance our ability to defend Japan, but it also enhances our ability to contribute to the peace and security of the western Pacific region," he said.

The United States has about 50,000 military personnel in Japan. Yokosuka, on the Pacific coast, hosts the bulk of the U.S. 7th Fleet.

Tokyo and Washington recently agreed on a realignment of U.S. forces that will move about 10,000 Marines out of Japan.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.
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