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Japan, US Still Discussing Force Realignment - 2004-08-26

The commander of the U.S. forces in Japan says Tokyo and Washington continue to discuss changes to the American military bases in Japan. It remains unclear how the Pentagon's global force restructuring will affect Japan.

Lieutenant General Thomas Waskow says the Japanese government has considerable input in talks on changing the U.S. military presence in the country.

"The secretary of defense's staff is very sensitive to the Japanese review of our initial proposals and, in fact, they have changed significantly from the original group of proposals," he said.

At a news briefing in Tokyo Thursday, he said Japan and the United States have been discussing possible changes for the past 18 months.

The U.S. military has dozens of bases in Japan, with more than 50,000 troops in the country. It employs thousands of Japanese civilians, as well as American expatriates. The Japanese government pays half of the $8 billion annual cost of running the bases.

Earlier this month, President Bush announced a plan to withdraw up to 70,000 troops from overseas bases. About half of them are expected to be moved out of Germany, but so far, U.S. officials have not said if any troops will leave Japan.

General Waskow declined to speculate on when decisions on changes would be announced.

The two allies did agree in 1996 to reduce the burden of the U.S. military presence on the southern island of Okinawa, where half of the troops are based.

The Japanese and U.S. governments are facing increased calls from Okinawa for changes after the August 13 crash of a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter there. Although no one was killed, the incident angered people on the island. Japanese agencies were upset about not being included in the crash investigation and island residents are angry that flights were resumed quickly.

General Waskow says the U.S. military followed proper procedures in handling the crash.

"Our response was conducted precisely within the confines of the agreements that we have with the government of Japan and our own internal United States military guidance," he said.

Okinawa's governor is demanding that the defense agreement with the United States be changed to allow local police to examine crash sites.