U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured an Air Force base on the Pacific island of Guam Friday - his first stop on a tour that will take him to Japan and South Korea to discuss plans for realigning U.S. forces in the region and the issue of Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Friday told U.S. troops on Guam that the island remains "an important element of U.S. national security." Guam, a U.S. territory, is strategically located within four hours flying time of the Asian mainland.
The Defense Department is considering stationing an aircraft carrier on Guam to increase its presence in the region. The Navy recently moved two nuclear attack submarines to Guam and is likely to add a third. The U.S. military accounts for about 15 percent of Guam's population of more than 150,000.
Mr. Rumsfeld also addressed the issue of Iraq, telling troops there are no plans for an early withdrawal from the war-torn nation. He says U.S. forces will be there "as long as necessary" to see that the country is put on a path to democracy.
He spoke one day after Japan delayed sending troops to help U.S.-led peacekeeping operations in Iraq and South Korea decided to limit its troop commitment. Their decisions follow a bombing in Iraq that killed 18 Italians.
Seoul has also halted all operations by its troops in southern Iraq until security is guaranteed.
In Japan, government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said despite Tokyo's decision to delay deployment of its troops to Iraq, the government remained committed to providing assistance.
He says that the reconstruction of Iraq will lead to security in the Middle East, peace in the world and stability in the global economy. He adds that Japan has been playing a role in Iraq and will continue to do so in the future.
The issue of Iraqi reconstruction will be up for discussion with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when Secretary Rumsfeld meets him in Tokyo later Friday. Mr. Rumsfeld also is expected to bring up U.S. thoughts on military deployments in the region, which could involve some of the nearly 60,000 U.S. troops in Japan. He will visit Okinawa on Sunday, where about half the U.S. troops in Japan are based.
The U.S. bases on Okinawa have been controversial for years. Many island residents resent the troops, pointing to a string of crimes committed by U.S. servicemen.
Mr. Rumsfeld also will visit South Korea, where the United States has been talking with officials on reconfiguring its 37,000 troops in the country.
In general, the aim of the force realignment is to increase the U.S. military's capability to respond to new threats, including terrorism and missiles, no matter where they come from.