Japan, US stress tight ties despite airbase feud

By Isabel Reynolds and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO, May 21 (BestGrowthStock) – Japan and the United States on
Friday played down a feud over a U.S. airbase that has frayed
two-way ties, saying the alliance was more vital than ever
given regional threats such as an unpredictable North Korea.

A feud over the U.S. Marines’ Futenma airbase on Japan’s
southern Okinawa island has distracted the allies as they try
to cope with changing regional dynamics including a rising
China.

Japanese voter perception that Prime Minister Yukio
Hatoyama has mishandled the row is eroding support before a
midyear election that his party needs to win to avoid policy
paralysis, and has even sparked speculation that he may resign.

Calling the 50-year-old alliance “rock solid”, U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the two allies were
working together to resolve the dispute.

“This partnership is essential for meeting the challenges
not only of today but also of tomorrow,” she told a joint news
conference with Japan’s foreign minister during a brief visit
before heading for China and then Seoul, where Pyongyang’s
sinking of a South Korean navy ship will top the agenda.

“It is good to be reminded, as we recently were with the
unprovoked attack on the Korean vessel, that there are still
dangers and challenges that confront us together,” she told the
news conference, where she strongly condemned Pyongyang’s
action and called for an international response.

South Korea accused the North on Thursday of torpedoing one
of its warships, heightening regional tension.

“We need to be aware this could happen to us. There is no
guarantee it won’t happen to Japan,” Japan’s Foreign Minister
Katsuya Okada told a solo news conference after a joint
appearance with Clinton.
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^ – For complete Japan coverage, click
[nPOLJP]
– For complete North Korea coverage, click
[nNORKOR]
– For scenarios on how the ship sinking could affect regional

security dynamics, click
[ID:nTOE64I04V]
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^> In the election that swept his Democratic Party to power
last year, Hatoyama raised hopes on Okinawa — host to about
half the U.S. forces in Japan — that Futenma could be moved
elsewhere, despite a 2006 deal to shift it to a less crowded
site on the subtropical island.

Hatoyama has set himself an end-of-May deadline for
resolving the issue, but with no new deal in sight he has
changed tack, saying some Marines would have to stay in Okinawa
to deter threats. That shift has outraged many Okinawans and
upset a small ruling coalition partner, the Social Democratic
Party.

Domestic media say the two governments will announce on May
28 an agreement to stick to the 2006 plan with minor changes, a
decision likely to be greeted with anger when Hatoyama visits
Okinawa on Sunday for a second time this month.

“We agreed, at a time when tension is increasing in North
East Asia … that the Japan-U.S. security alliance is
important and this is the year to deepen such ties,” Hatoyama
told reporters after a 20-minute chat with Clinton.

Okada also stressed the need for the U.S. troop presence in
Japan, whose own military is constrained by its pacifist
constitution.

“I want to explain frankly to the Japanese people that the
presence of U.S. troops in Japan is indispensable to Japan’s
security and to the peace and stability of the region in the
current security environment,” he told the news conference.
Stock Research

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Charlotte Cooper,
Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Japan, US stress tight ties despite airbase feud