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Gates, Kitazawa endorse plan on US base in Japan

03 june 2011, 17:18
US and Japanese defence chiefs on Friday renewed their support for a controversial plan to relocate an American base on Japan's Okinawa island, saying it was the most viable way forward, AFP reports.

After holding talks at an Asia security summit in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Japan's Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa issued a joint statement saying "the current relocation plan is the most operationally viable and politically sustainable way forward".

Under the plan, agreed in 2006 after years of negotiations, the United States would move the flashpoint Futenma base out of a crowded urban area to an isolated stretch of coast elsewhere on Okinawa.

Before arriving in Singapore, Gates suggested the Obama administration was not ready to overhaul the plan despite a call from three US senators to consider alternatives.

The senators, Carl Levin, John McCain and Jim Webb, last month called for the United States to review base realignment plans in East Asia due to political opposition in Japan and cost overruns in both Japan and South Korea.

The senators said Japan needed to focus on reconstruction work after its massive March 11 earthquake and not be distracted by the base dispute, which contributed to last year's resignation of the then prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama.

In their statement, Gates and Kitazawa "agreed to continue to explore measures to mitigate the impact of the US presence on Okinawa".

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