The United States and Japan averted a battle over the large American military presence here on Wednesday, striking a deal on the relocation of a Marine base and paving the way for broader realignment talks this weekend. The agreement, on the third day of talks in Tokyo, was also aimed at quelling opposition to the U.S. military on the southern island of Okinawa, which hosts the majority of the 50,000 American troops based in the country.
Under a Japanese proposal accepted by the U.S., the Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma, on Okinawa will be closed and its functions will be moved to Camp Schwab, on the northern part of the island, officials said.
The U.S.-favored construction of a heliport on reclaimed land, a plan that was opposed by Japanese environmentalists and others, will be scrapped, though media reports said part of the new facility at Schwab would be built on new landfill.
"The U.S. side, taking into consideration the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance ... has accepted the most recent JDA (Japan Defense Agency) proposal and plan," said Richard Lawless, U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense and lead American negotiator.
The Japanese also made concessions to the U.S. side, media reports said. Kyodo News agency said Tokyo had proposed a 1,500-meter (yard) runway at Schwab, but gave in to an American demand for a 1,800 meter (yard) runway, requiring additional landfill at the base.
The deal opens the way for high-level talks on Saturday in Washington on the broader realignment of U.S. troops in Japan, part of the American effort to streamline its military overseas and create a leaner, more flexible fighting force, the AP reports.
Those realignment talks, scheduled for Saturday in Washington, will also lead to the reduction of thousands of U.S. Marines in Okinawa, Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said. Kyodo News agency said the reduction would be of 4,000 Marines, but U.S. officials refused to comment on the number.
The dispute over Futenma, which stems from the mid-1990s, had aroused passions on both sides in recent days.
On Tuesday, Lawless talked sternly about the negotiations, saying they were "interminable," and suggesting the Japanese were delaying agreement because of "parochial issues."
Both sides seemed relieved by the agreement.