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Donna Miles, Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs
TOKYO - 10.20.2009
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he looks forward to building on the strong U.S.-Japan security relationship during his meetings here with the new Japanese government, but that he plans to urge its leaders to leave intact security arrangements that have been years in the making.
Gates, the first U.S. Cabinet member to visit since the new Japanese Democratic Party government took office last month, told reporters he understands Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's interest in reviewing certain policies. "President [Barack] Obama's administration has done the same thing," he said.
But during his meeting today with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, and tomorrow's sessions with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, Gates said he would urge the new leaders to leave existing security agreements in place.
"We are committed to advancing and implementing our agreed alliance transformation agenda," Gates told Okada today at the Foreign Ministry.
At issue is Hatoyama's interest in re-examining the 2006 U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment and Implementation, which outlines a major strategic repositioning of alliance forces.
The agreement includes plans to move thousands of U.S. forces from southern Okinawa, consolidate numerous bases, build a new runway to the north at Camp Schwab to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and relocate 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam.
Ultimately, the plan would relocate U.S. servicemembers from the heavily populated southern part of Okinawa and reduce the Marine troops on Okinawa from 18,000 to 10,000, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell explained. The deadline for the plan to be implemented is 2014 -- "a very ambitious goal" that's achievable, he said, but only if it continues moving forward on schedule.
Gates told reporters during the flight here the security agreements can't be picked apart piece by piece.
"This has been a negotiation in the works for 15 years," he said. "All of the elements of it are interlocking, and so it is important to continue with it."
The agreement is highly complex, the result of extensive negotiations that resolved numerous strategic, military and political issues, a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters. "If one starts into minor adjustments, it's not a minor adjustment," he said. "It becomes a cascading series of other decisions that have to be made."
Gates said options being voiced to change agreed-upon plans – from changing the location of the proposed runway at Camp Schwab to cancelling its construction altogether and moving Futenma's operations to Kadena Air Base -- simply won't work.
"We've looked over the years at all these alternatives, and they are either politically untenable or operationally unworkable, so we need to proceed with the agreement as negotiated," Gates said. "There really ... are no alternatives to the arrangement that was negotiated."
Not going forward as previously agreed to would have a ripple effect, Gates said.
"It is hard for me to believe that the [U.S.] Congress would support going forward in Guam without real progress with respect to the Futenma replacement facility," he said.
Ultimately, Gates said he has "every confidence" that both the United States and Japan "will fulfill the commitments they have made in this agreement" as they work toward strengthening their bilateral relationship.
"I think there are some real opportunities going forward," he said, with "further cooperation and partnership with one of our strongest allies."
During his meeting today with Okada, Gates called the upcoming 50th anniversary of the treaty of mutual cooperation and security between the United States and Japan an appropriate time to recognize "all we have achieved together, and more importantly, all that we will accomplish together in the future."