TOKYO (Reuters) - Washington has given up on moving 8,000 U.S. Marines to the U.S. territory of Guam from Japan by 2014, media said on Friday, a potential blow to Prime Minister Naoto Kan who is already struggling over a U.S. base dispute.
The planned transfer of Marines from the southern island of Okinawa is a part of a larger agreement between Washington and Tokyo that includes relocating functions of the U.S. Futenma airbase in Okinawa to a less crowded area on the island.
Washington’s likely delay in transferring the Marines could push back the relocation of Futenma as well, Yomiuri newspaper reported. It said the likely delay was disclosed in a briefing given by the U.S. Navy to Guam’s government.
Any postponement over moving the controversial base on Okinawa, host to about half the U.S. troops in the country, could be a blow to Kan’s government, already reeling from a poor showing in an upper house election this month.
The dispute over where to relocate the Futenma airbase has distracted the two countries as they try to cope with an unpredictable North Korea and a rising China.
A scrapped government pledge to move the base off Okinawa had sparked anger from local residents who complain of noise, pollution and crime, and led to the resignation of Kan’s predecessor in June.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada reaffirmed in a meeting in Hanoi on Friday that experts will work out details of the Futenma relocation site by end-August as agreed in a May deal, Kyodo news agency said.
But doubts remain over whether the deal can be implemented on time. Yomiuri reported this week that Washington and Tokyo have started informal talks on postponing a decision.
An election for the Okinawa governor is due in November and the result could also affect plans to move the airbase, coming near the time when U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to visit Japan for an Asia-Pacific leaders’ summit.
Reporting by Yoko Kubota, editing by Andrew Marshall