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American Forces Press Service

Gates, Japanese Leaders Vow Continued Cooperation

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Oct. 21, 2009 – Citing “great opportunities” to further strengthen the U.S.-Japanese security relationship in cooperation with the new Japanese government, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates re-emphasized today the need to move forward with the previously agreed-to realignment plan.

Gates met with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, calling the U.S.-Japan partnership “the cornerstone of our security policy in Asia.”

Hatoyama told Gates his administration “cherishes our alliance” with the United States and plans to put a “fresh impetus” on furthering it. It’s as important today as when it was formed, he added, particularly in light of “uncertainty” in the region.

Speaking during a joint news conference with Kitazawa, Gates expressed hope in advancing the relationship that has provided a defense umbrella for Japan for nearly 50 years and helped to provide security to the region.

“The true legacy of the last 50 years is the enormous potential we have to strengthen our ties to tackle security challenges as an alliance of equals in the 21st century,” he said.

Gates and Kitazawa discussed issues ranging from the two countries’ missile defense cooperation – critical, Gates noted, in light of North Korean activities – to Japan’s role in disaster response and counterpiracy operations to its support for the mission in Afghanistan.

Gates thanked the Japanese government for providing reconstruction and security assistance in Afghanistan, as well as for the refueling support it has provided the coalition in Afghanistan. If the new government terminates the mission Jan. 15 as announced, Japan still has “robust opportunities for additional kinds of assistance” it can provide, he said.

Gates ticked off several possibilities, including financial support to expand the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, as well economic and cultural development assistance.

“We would only hope that Japan’s contribution will be commensurate with its standing as one of the greatest powers in the world,” Gates said.

The two also discussed Japan’s host-nation support of U.S. forces stationed there, which Gates said the United States views as “a strategic pillar” of the alliance.

A key issue in today’s talks, he said, was “the importance of our bilateral realignment roadmap, its strategic benefits to the United States, Japan and the region, in particular, and the importance of moving forward expeditiously on the roadmap as agreed.”

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.

The Hatoyama government has expressed an interest in re-examining the agreement, particularly issues involving the relocation of Marines from Futenma about 30 miles north to Camp Schwab, which Gates calls “the lynchpin” of the realignment roadmap.

Gates emphasized the complexity of the agreement that was negotiated over the past 15 years and the danger of trying to pick it apart piece by piece. “It is interlocking, and to begin to pull apart different pieces of it would be immensely complicated and counterproductive.

“We have investigated all of the alternatives in great detail, and believe that they are both politically untenable and operational unworkable,” he said. “Our view is [that] this may not be the perfect alternative for anyone, but it is the best alternative for everyone, and it is time to move on.”

He re-emphasized that position at today’s news conference. “Our view is clear,” he said. “Without the Futenma [replacement] facility, there will be no relocation to Guam. And without relocation to Guam, there will be no consolidation of forces and return of land in Okinawa.”

Gates said modest changes, such as moving the Camp Schwab runway a matter of meters from where it originally was agreed to be built, is a matter for the people of Japan, not the United States, to discuss.

“Our only caveat,” he said, “would be that it not slow the implementation process.”

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