Clinton weighs in on simmering dispute with Japan over future of U.S. Marine base in Okinawa - Metro US

Clinton weighs in on simmering dispute with Japan over future of U.S. Marine base in Okinawa

HONOLULU – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the Obama administration feels assured of Japan’s commitment to a security alliance, even as Tokyo weighs abandoning a 2006 deal on a U.S. Marine air base.

“The Japanese government has explained the process they are pursuing to reach a resolution” on relocating the Futenma air station, “and we respect that,” she said after meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.

While Okada apparently did not promise Japan would not force Futenma off its territory entirely, he said Tokyo would determine the future of the air station by May, in a way that would have “minimal impact on the U.S.-Japan alliance.”

In a nod to Japanese sensitivities, Clinton said it was important for the U.S. to maintain its role in contributing to stability in the Asia-Pacific region while keeping in mind the need to reduce the impact of jet noise and other inconveniences to local communities near U.S. bases.

The U.S. military views Futenma as critical to its strategy for defending not only Japan but also reinforcing allied forces in the event of war on the Korean peninsula.

Clinton on Tuesday was also delivering a speech on the Obama administration’s views on enhancing their co-operation with Asian and Pacific nations on a wide range of issues, including regional security, trade and the environment.

Upon arrival at the University of Hawaii, Clinton was met by a few dozen protesters lining the street and shouting “End the wars!” and hoisting signs demanding that the U.S. withdraw its military forces from Okinawa. None attended the speech.

Clinton stressed that the first U.S. priority in the Asia-Pacific is to maintain the country-to-country alliances it already has, while exploring ways in which the United States can play a role in any new or reconfigured associations.

“The ultimate purpose of our co-operation should be to dispel suspicions that still exist as artifacts of the region’s turbulent past,” she said.

No country, including the U.S., should dominate in the region, she said. But the role of the United States is irreplaceable, she added.

“We can provide resources and facilitate co-operation in ways that other regional actors cannot replicate, or in some cases are not trusted to do.”

She described the region as a source of potential instability.

“Asia is home not only to rising powers, but also to isolated regimes; not only to long-standing challenges, but also unprecedented threats,” she said.

At her news conference with Okada, Clinton played down the friction over Futenma, stressing the many other areas of long-standing co-operation between the two countries. And she made clear that satisfying U.S. needs for the Marine base is equally in Japan’s own interest.

“We look to our Japanese allies and friends to follow through on their commitments, including on Futenma,” she said. “I know Japan understands and agrees that our security alliance is fundamental to the future of Japan and the region.”

A new left-leaning Japanese government that took office in September is reassessing the U.S.-Japan alliance.

It also is investigating agreements long hidden in government files that allowed nuclear-armed U.S. warships to enter Japanese ports, violating a hallowed anti-nuclear principle of postwar Japan. The findings are due out this month, and U.S. officials said prior to Clinton’s arrival in Honolulu that they expect Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada to raise the matter in their talks Tuesday.

The Hawaiian setting for Tuesday’s meeting, in the 50th year of the U.S.-Japan defence alliance, inevitably stirred memories of darker times. Before her session with Okada, Clinton was scheduled to visit the World War II memorial to the sunken USS Arizona, which still lies in Pearl Harbor with its dead.

She chatted briefly with two survivors and laid a wreath before a wall containing names of those who died on the ship.

Nearly 2,400 Americans were killed and almost 1,180 injured when Japanese fighters bombed and sank 12 naval vessels and heavily damaged nine others on Dec. 7, 1941. The Arizona, which sank in less than nine minutes after an armour-piercing bomb breached its deck and exploded in the ship’s ammunition magazine, lost 1,177 sailors and Marines. About 340 of its crew members survived.

In her remarks en route to Honolulu Monday, Clinton defended the Obama administration’s foreign policy record in its first year. She said that while the administration may not have produced major breakthroughs, it set the stage for important progress in the months ahead.

Clinton cited Iran as one of the toughest foreign policy problems for the U.S. in 2010. She also said the administration has concluded that the best way to pressure Iran to come clean on its nuclear ambitions is to impose sanctions aimed at the country’s ruling elite.

“It is clear that there is a relatively small group of decision makers inside Iran,” she said. “They are in both political and commercial relationships, and if we can create a sanctions track that targets those who actually make the decisions, we think that is a smarter way to do sanctions. But all that is yet to be decided upon.”

Officials from the six nations trying to persuade Iran to prove its nuclear intentions are peaceful said Monday that senior diplomats from the group were preparing to meet, possibly later this week, to discuss the way ahead, including potential new sanctions.

Clinton mentioned that the meeting, of representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France – plus Germany, would be held at the end of the week in New York. She did not cite a specific day.

“They will be exploring the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing,” she said.

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