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No Early Withdrawal From Iraq, says US Defense Secretary - 2003-11-16

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says U.S. troops will not pull out early from Iraq despite new plans to speed up the creation of a sovereign Iraqi government.

The U.S. defense secretary says a faster timetable to transfer power to an Iraqi government from U.S. administrators does not affect the American military presence in the country. The U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council says it will have a sovereign transitional government ready in June.

Mr. Rumsfeld said Sunday the new timetable relates to the "governance aspect of the country, and not the security aspect" and that it has nothing to do with U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld's comments come amid daily attacks on coalition troops in Iraq, many of them deadly.

Mr. Rumsfeld was speaking on the last day of a three-day visit to Japan. He spent Sunday visiting the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

He met Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine and took a helicopter tour of the island, where about 30,000 U.S. troops are based. Mr. Inamine gave him a petition requesting changes to the U.S. military presence on the island and asking for a review of the agreement that governs the legal status of American troops in the country.

However, he also assured the defense secretary that Okinawa's people are not "anti-American" and noted that the U.S. bases in Japan play a crucial role "in maintaining peace and security" in the region.

Some Okinawans resent the troops because of a series of crimes committed by U.S. servicemen over the past several years. They also complain about environmental problems they say the military causes, such as noise pollution from aircraft.

Mr. Rumsfeld told the Okinawa governor that the United States plans to realign its forces around the world, and that some changes could affect U.S. bases in Japan. But he said he was not ready to make specific proposals.

After leaving Okinawa, Mr. Rumsfeld flew to South Korea, where he will visit U.S. troops and meet with President Roh Moo-hyun to discuss the future status of U.S. forces there. There are 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, and their presence in that country has also generated controversy.