Gates urges keeping forces on Okinawa

Oct. 21, 2009 at 2:22 PM

TOKYO, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Japan should stick to its agreement to keep the functions of the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station on Okinawa.

In the Democratic Party of Japan's recent election campaign, party leaders promised to revisit agreements made by the previous administration to close Futenma and relocate its functions to Camp Schwab in rural northern Okinawa. But Gates urged Tuesday in Tokyo that the new DPJ-led government abide by the current agreement, The Japan Times reported.

The newspaper said Gates, in talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, asserted that keeping the base's functions on Okinawa was the only feasible alternative.

The DPJ had pledged to support moving the military functions off Okinawa as part of a realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. The Times said Okada told Gates domestic circumstances had changed in Japan, citing elections won by opponents of the U.S. bases and calls by Okinawans for a change in the relocation plan.

There are about 4,000 Marine personnel stationed at the Okinawa base, which had a U.S. presence since World War II.

Despite the disagreements, a Foreign Ministry official told the newspaper Okada and Gates agreed to beef up bilateral ties.

Meanwhile, a Japanese court is hearing arguments on whether the Japanese government should pay nearly 400 citizens about $1.3 million in damages for mental and physical suffering they contend was caused by noise pollution from the Marine Corps air station.

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