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Clinton Visits Okinawa Marine Base

July 22, 2000

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa (AP) _ After expressing regret about instances of misconduct by American military forces, President Clinton visited a U.S. Marine base Saturday and told thousands of troops that they ``need to be good neighbors″ on Okinawa as well as peacekeeping allies.

Clinton came to Camp Foster with his daughter Chelsea and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley to praise the troops for their sacrifices and urge them to be on good behavior.

Marines said they got both messages.

``A lot of people will take notice about being good neighbors because this is the commander in chief,″ said Cpl. Ramiro Barrera, 22, from Brownsville, Texas. Lance Cpl. Mike Farrow, 18, of Orlando, Fla., said, ``It was real uplifting. We haven’t had much to smile about around here lately. But now there are smiles on a lot of people’s faces.″

The president addressed U.S. forces on an athletic field next to a row of barracks.

``We know our hosts in Okinawa have borne a heavy burden, hosting half our forces in Japan on less than 1 percent of its land,″ Clinton said. ``They too have paid a price to preserve the peace.

``And that is why we need to be good neighbors to them in addition to being good allies _ why each one of us has a personal obligation to do everything that we can to strengthen our friendship and to do nothing to harm it.″

At the same time, Clinton praised U.S. forces for their volunteer work and military service.

``You will never know how many wars you have deterred, how many deaths you have prevented,″ the commander in chief said. ``But you know the number of wars that have been fought in these waters since the United States’ forces have been stationed here. That number is zero. You should be very, very proud.″

The president spoke to U.S. forces and their families late at night, after attending a summit banquet with leaders of the world’s largest industrial nations. He had been scheduled to address the troops Sunday afternoon, but his speech was moved up to allow him to leave earlier to hurry back to the Mideast peace talks between Israel and Palestinians at Camp David in Maryland.

Okinawa is home to 26,000 U.S. forces and their presence has been a source of tension and friction with local residents who are angry about instances of misbehavior and crime. On Thursday, the eve of Clinton’s arrival, tens of thousands of Japanese demonstrators formed a human chain around Kadena Air Force Base to demand a reduction of bases and U.S. servicemen.

The latest incident involved a Marine who was arrested after allegedly entering an unlocked house, crawling into bed with a 14-year-old girl and fondling her in her sleep. The case has inflamed Okinawans’ anger and fueled anti-American sentiment.

Clinton met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Saturday and, according to a Japanese official, said the case of the 14-year-old girl ``hurt me in the heart.″

The spokesman said the Japanese considered Clinton’s comments an apology. A White House official said Clinton ``just expressed a general regret that incidents like this have happened,″ but did not discuss the latest case because of ongoing legal proceedings.

During their meeting, Clinton and Mori agreed Japan would slightly reduce the $5 billion Tokyo pays for U.S. bases located in Okinawa, U.S. and Japanese officials said. The reduction would be about $30 million. They also agreed to extend for a fourth year trade talks on a broad range of business sectors, from telecommunications to financial services and pharmaceuticals.

While the American military presence has helped the economy, Okinawans angrily blame U.S. troops for crimes ranging from thefts and assaults to rapes and killings.

Upon his arrival Friday, Clinton promised the citizens of Okinawa that the United States would ``reduce our footprint on this island″ and follow through on a five-year-old plan to consolidate U.S. military bases on the island. ``We take seriously our responsibility to be good neighbors, and it is unacceptable to the United States when we do not meet that responsibility,″ Clinton said.

When asked whether Clinton offered Mori assurances on U.S. troop discipline, deputy national security adviser Jim Steinberg said Mori thanked Clinton for his statement ``about the importance of good neighborliness,″ and that Clinton ``indicated this was something that we were deeply committed to and that we would continue to take every measure that we could.″

Clinton is the first U.S. president to visit Okinawa since Dwight Eisenhower made a one-day stop in 1960. The United States returned control of the southern islands to Tokyo in 1972 but still maintains a high military profile. Military bases occupy about 20 percent of Okinawa, and are home to 26,000 troops.

Foley and Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, the commander of the U.S. Marines on Okinawa, apologized to Japanese officials for the incident before Clinton arrived, and imposed a late-night curfew and drinking ban on soldiers.

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