By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – U.S. and Japanese officials announced yesterday the two nations have agreed on a plan to relocate U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
The joint statement of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee spells out unit moves, land and facilities on Okinawa the United States will return to the Japanese government, and the costs each government will pay for the relocation.
The joint statement is the latest result of negotiations between the two countries dating to the 2006 Realignment Roadmap and the 2009 Guam International Agreement. The two nations issued a joint defense posture statement in February that “delinked” the two agreements so parts of the relocation plan could move forward more quickly.
“I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached this important agreement and plan of action,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said in a statement yesterday. He praised Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka for “spearheading discussions” leading to the joint statement.
“We will work closely with our partners in the Japanese Self Defense Force to implement these decisions and to further improve this vital alliance of ours,” the secretary added.
Panetta said he looks forward to strengthening the two nations’ partnership “as, together, we address security challenges in the region.”
During a Pentagon background briefing to reporters yesterday, senior State and Defense Department officials outlined the agreement.
About 9,000 Marines will relocate from Okinawa, with about 5,000 moving to Guam and the rest transferring to other locations in the Pacific such as Hawaii and Australia, the defense official said.
The Marines will be organized in air-ground task forces, which combine command, ground, air and logistics elements that can deploy and operate as a unit.
“This new posture that we've created results in a more operationally effective presence across the region,” the defense official said.
“In the end, we are sustaining the same presence in the Western Pacific that we've intended for some time,” the official added.
About 10,000 Marines will remain on Okinawa when the relocation is complete, the official said.
The agreement also sets Japan’s funding for the move to Guam at $3.1 billion of the overall $8.6 billion estimated cost, the defense official added.
“We're particularly appreciative of this commitment in the context of Japan's fiscal challenges, which we fully recognize,” the official added.
One element of the agreement involves possible development of joint training ranges in Guam and the commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands as shared-use facilities for U.S. and Japanese forces, the official said.
The State Department official said the plan will result in a stronger, more sustainable and more flexible alliance.
“This is really a key component of our strategic rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific region,” the official said. “As you know, one of the key aspects of that is strengthening partnerships with regional allies, and of course Japan is a very important alliance partner.”
The official said the agreement reaffirms both nations’ commitment to relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now in the center of Okinawa’s Ginowan City, to a more remote area of the island. Until the Futenma relocation happens, both governments will share the cost of maintaining the existing facility, the official added.
The Japanese government will determine the timeline for the Futenma move, the State Department official said, noting the U.S. focus for Okinawa is sustaining an operationally effective Marine Corps presence there.
The defense official said U.S. representatives are “delighted” at the agreement.
“We think it's a significant achievement that demonstrates that the U.S.-Japan alliance is still capable of big things,” the official said.