* 2006 plan long stymied by political opposition
* Panetta welcomes "important" agreement
* Futenma base issue unresolved; smaller facilities to move
* U.S. officials say it supports Asia-Pacific rebalancing
(Updates with Panetta comment, details from statement)
By Paul Eckert
WASHINGTON, April 26 The United States and Japan
announced on Thursday a revised agreement on streamlining the
U.S. military presence on Okinawa that will shift 9,000 Marines
from the southern Japanese island to Guam and other Asia-Pacific
The new plan, unveiled days before Japanese Prime Minister
Yoshihiko Noda meets President Barack Obama in Washington, helps
the allies work around the central but still-unresolved dispute
over moving the Futenma air base from a crowded part of Okinawa
to a new site that has vexed relations for years.
"I am very pleased that, after many years, we have reached
this important agreement and plan of action. I applaud the hard
work and effort that went into crafting it," U.S. Defense
Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement.
"Japan is not just a close ally, but also a close friend."
Under the agreement, 9,000 U.S. Marines will be relocated.
Five thousand will go to Guam and the rest to other sites such
as Hawaii and Australia, a joint U.S.-Japanese statement said.
The updated version of a long-delayed 2006 plan was needed
to achieve "a U.S. force posture in the Asia-Pacific region that
is more geographically distributed, operationally resilient and
politically sustainable," the statement said.
Snags over Okinawa had raised questions about the viability
of the Obama administration's strategy of shifting U.S. forces
from other regions to the Asia-Pacific to deal with nuclear
saber-rattling by North Korea, the rapid military buildup of
China and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Friction over U.S. bases intensified after the 1995 gang
rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen. The case
sparked widespread protests by Okinawans, who had long resented
the American presence due to crime, noise and deadly accidents.
There are about 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan under a 1960
bilateral security treaty.
Okinawa, occupied by the United States from 1945-72,
accounts for less than 1 percent of Japan's total land but hosts
three-quarters of the U.S. military facilities in the country in
terms of land area.
"This has been ... bogged down for years, but now we have
been able to come up with a new approach de-linking the Futenma
relocation from other elements, like moving out Marine forces to
Guam and returning some parts of Okinawa," said Ichiro Fujisaki,
Japan's ambassador to the United States.
"Things are going to start moving," he told a gathering at a
think tank in Washington.
Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian
and Pacific Affairs, said the deal was discussed widely with
U.S. lawmakers, who had refused to fund the overhaul on Okinawa
until the Futenma deadlock was resolved and the administration
fully explained how the move would fit overall U.S. strategy.
"We think it breaks a very long stalemate ... that has
plagued our politics, that has clogged both of our systems,"
"REBALANCING" TOWARD ASIA-PACIFIC
A senior State Department official said: "This is really a
key component of our strategic rebalancing toward the
The new policy has also entailed closer U.S. military ties
with the Philippines, Australia and Singapore.
The agreement includes a $3.1 billion cash commitment from
Japan for the move to Guam as well as for developing joint
training ranges on Guam and on Tinian and Pagan in the
U.S.-controlled Northern Mariana Islands.
The previous agreement on the move to Guam had Japan
providing $6.1 billion in support, with $2.8 billion in cash and
the rest in financing arrangements. The two sides agreed to
limit that to $3.1 billion from Japan because of the smaller
footprint the Marines will have in Guam
Campbell acknowledged that more work needed to be done,
including finding a replacement for Futenma.
Proposed replacement sites for Futenma on the subtropical
island that lies between Japan's main islands and Taiwan have
met strong local opposition. At the same time Tokyo was in
political disarray, with six prime ministers in six years.
"Does this agreement answer every question? It does not. Is
there more programmatic and technical work that is necessary?
Yes," said Campbell.
"But at a fundamental level, we think this agreement moves
the ball very substantially down the field in a way that no one
would have anticipated a few months ago," he said.
Separating the move to Guam from the Futenma issue frees up
the allies to work more on cybersecurity, space, intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance operations and ballistic missile
defense, a senior U.S. Defense Department official said.
Senators Carl Levin, John McCain and Jim Webb - top members
of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee who had frozen
Okinawa funding until their budgetary and strategic questions
were answered - said some of their concerns had been addressed.
"We still have many questions about the specific details of
this statement and its implications for our force posture in the
Asia-Pacific region," they said in a statement, which also vowed
to keep working on "a mutually beneficial, militarily effective,
and fiscally sustainable agreement" on Okinawa and Guam.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Peter
Cooney, Todd Eastham and Paul Tait)