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US, Japan Disagree Over Military Realignment Agreement Issues

The United States and Japan are about to start five days of talks in Honolulu Tuesday to finalize a sweeping agreement on realigning and downsizing U.S. forces in Japan. The two countries appear to disagree over what has already been agreed upon, and what they hope the talks will accomplish.

Washington thought it had a deal last October, when it jointly announced an agreement with Tokyo on realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan - part of a global reorganization of the U.S. military.

The agreement included a deadline for finalizing details: the end of this month.

But parts of the agreement were rejected by local governments on Okinawa, where the bulk of the 50,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan are stationed. That prompted Japanese officials to start referring to the October announcement as an "interim report," with the actual agreement to be formalized by the end of March.

Lt. Col. Richardo Stewart, deputy assistant chief of staff for U.S. Marine Corps Bases in Japan, said Monday that the Marines consider the October announcement final, and not a preliminary draft.

"It's an agreement, and what comes out in March is really, how do we implement that agreement?" he asked.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi downplays expectations that this week's talks in Hawaii are crucial to a resolution by the end of the month.

"This is not supposed to be a meeting to come up with any concrete proposal, any concrete decision," Taniguchi says. "This is just to review the situation, and this is just to share the information among the participants, and that is all."

The announced agreement includes relocating a new U.S. Army command to a base near Yokohama, transferring Japan's air defense command to a U.S. base in western Tokyo, and moving up to eight thousand Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

It also envisions a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier having its home base at Yokosuka, on the main island of Honshu. And it provides for a Marine air station to be relocated from densely populated central Okinawa to an offshore reef.

But Okinawans have long complained of the U.S. military presence here, citing crimes committed by American personnel, aircraft noise, and potential danger from military flights over populated areas. Many Okinawan officials want the U.S. military moved from the island completely.

Kevin Maher, political and military affairs director for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, says the United States expects the Japanese to abide by the original agreement.

"We take the Japanese government at its word when it told us that it could implement the recommendations that we agreed on in October," Maher says. "And we expect that the Japanese government will be able to implement those recommendations."

The dispute has led to speculation that a final deal might not be reached by the end of this month.