US ambassador visits Okinawa amid base plans
NAHA, Japan (AP) — U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, making her first visit to Okinawa in hopes of winning support for a U.S. military base relocation plan, pledged Wednesday that Washington would do its best to reduce the burden of its heavy troop presence there.
“The United States is committed to working with you and the government of Japan to make that happen as rapidly as possible,” Kennedy told local leaders at a reception hosted by the U.S. consul-general.
During talks earlier Wednesday, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima expressed hopes they could work together on problems related to the U.S. bases.
“There are various problems and tasks such as crimes, accidents as well as environmental issues,” he told Kennedy. “We would like to seek and urge your help so as to resolve the issue fundamentally and to reduce our burden of having U.S. bases.”
Kennedy visited a peace park and offered flowers at a mausoleum which honors people who died in heavy fighting during the closing months of World War II.
The U.S. government wants to relocate an American military base, the Marine Corps Futenma air station, to the Henoko district of Nago.
The plan is backed by Nakaima, but many other people on Okinawa, including Nago’s mayor, want Futenma moved completely off the island.
About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan are on Okinawa, which comprises less than 1 percent of Japan’s territory.
Kennedy, who has drawn much attention since arriving last year because of being the daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, also visited a castle and a high school. She reportedly will see the base relocation site before departing Thursday.
She met with students at the peace park, and said she was reminded of the importance of working together to reduce the burden of the American military presence and create opportunities for Okinawan students.
The U.S. has proposed a broad plan to consolidate and reduce its troop presence in Okinawa, including a 1996 agreement to move the Futenma air station away from its current populated area.
More than 300 people rallied ahead of her arrival late Tuesday to protest the base relocation plans, waving signs that said “No base.”
Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi, Yuri Kageyama and Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed to this report.