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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Discusses Okinawa Issues During Japan Visit

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

TOKYO, Oct. 25, 2011 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Japanese leaders discussed the relocation of U.S. forces on Okinawa and other security issues during a series of meetings here today.

Panetta met separately with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Foreign Affairs Minister Koichiro Gemba and Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa.

In a joint news conference, Panetta and Ichikawa told reporters both are committed to the realignment roadmap and strengthening the U.S-Japan military alliance.

The secretary said all three Japanese officials confirmed their government is working to complete the environmental impact assessment required to move ahead with the plan that will significantly adjust U.S. forces on Okinawa. The 2006 roadmap signed by Japan and the United States would relocate Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now in the center of Okinawa’s Ginowan City, to a more remote area of the island. The plan also would move about 8,000 Marines now based on Okinawa to Guam.

“This is a critical initiative in our effort to maintain a strong, forward-deployed presence in the Pacific region,” Panetta said. “It’s also important to the realignment of our forces in Japan, and … to reducing the impact of our bases in Okinawa.

“For all of those reasons,” he continued, “we are both very committed to the principles of the realignment roadmap, including the establishment of an operational Marine presence on Guam.”

Panetta said U.S. and Japanese leaders also want to strengthen bilateral regional security cooperation with South Korea and Australia “to more effectively address the many shared challenges that we face.”

China also was part of the discussions, Panetta noted. “Together,” he said, “we will also work to encourage China’s emergence as a responsible and positive partner in building regional stability and prosperity, cooperating on global issues and upholding international norms and rules of behavior.”

Ichikawa, speaking through an interpreter, said U.S. and Japanese leaders had reaffirmed the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance and agreed to expand military cooperation through additional exercises and other joint operations. The Japanese defense minister said his meeting with Panetta also included discussions on cybersecurity, space and ballistic missile defense.

Panetta is midway through a weeklong Asia trip that began in Bali, Indonesia. The secretary has more events scheduled in Japan before traveling to South Korea.

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