Japan, U.S. to revise accord on Marine transfer from Okinawa

Japan and the United States plan to give the go-ahead at a ministerial meeting this week to revise a bilateral accord on the envisioned realignment of U.S. Marine Corps personnel stationed in Okinawa, government officials said Sunday.

The planned revision of the so-called Guam Agreement codifying the Marine transfer from Okinawa to Guam followed a review in April last year of the transformation of U.S. forces stationed in Japan that led to cuts in the number of U.S. Marine Corps personnel to be relocated from the island prefecture to the U.S. territory to about 4,000 from an initially envisaged 8,000.

Of an estimated $8.6 billion in costs for projects such as relocating Marines and their dependents, and building runways and facilities in Guam and neighboring islands in the Pacific with an eye on future joint exercises between U.S. and Japanese forces, Japan will maintain its share of up to $2.8 billion, the officials said.

The defense and foreign ministers of the two countries plan to sign the revised agreement during their "two-plus-two" meeting slated for Thursday in Tokyo.

The move is aimed at mitigating the impact of U.S. forces on Okinawa by accelerating the planned Marine personnel transfer.

With the U.S. Congress showing reluctance to use related funds due to a lack of specifics on projects designed for the personnel move to Guam, it is also aimed at prompting Congress to free the funds by promising the personnel transfer in no uncertain terms.

Okinawa, which for decades remained under U.S. control following Japan's defeat in World War II, continues to host the bulk of U.S. forces in Japan more than 40 years after its reversion to Japan in 1972, frustrating local people who hope to see the U.S. military footprint reduced.

The two-plus-two meeting will be attended by Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida from the Japanese side, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry from the U.S. side.

The Guam Agreement was reached by Japan and the United States in February 2009 on the basis of a 2006 bilateral accord on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Under the pact, Japan is supposed to provide about $2.8 billion in direct cash contributions and about $3.3 billion in loans via the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to finance part of the $10.2 billion needed to transfer 8,000 Marines and their about 9,000 dependents to Guam from Okinawa.

But because the United States conducted a review of the transfer plan in April last year, the Japanese side no longer needed to provide the loans and the total estimated cost fell to $8.6 billion from an initially envisaged $10.2 billion.

Under the revised plan, about 9,000 of the 19,000 Marines stationed in Okinawa would be transferred out of Japan and of those, about 4,000 would be moved to Guam and the remainder to Hawaii, Australia and elsewhere.

The two-plus-two meeting between the countries, which primarily deals with security matters, was last held in Japan in 1996, where the issue of the relocation of a U.S. Marine air base on Okinawa was discussed.