Guam-Okinawa Marines transfer budget clears U.S. Congress

The U.S. Senate passed a key defense bill Thursday that included outlays for the contentious program of transferring Marines to Guam from Okinawa and the installation of an anti-ballistic missile radar in Japan.

The move paved the way for the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2014 to take effect once it has been signed by President Barack Obama. The House of Representatives passed the bill last week.

The act includes an $86 million outlay for the transfer of Marines to Guam from the southern Japan prefecture. More precisely, the budget will be used to refurbish hangars at the Andersen Air Force base in the U.S. territory so Marines can also use the airfield.

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

The act also covers a budget of $15 million that will be used to install X-band radar at a Japanese Air Self-Defense Force base in Kyoto Prefecture, western Japan.

The planned radar installation at the base on the Sea of Japan coast is part of efforts aimed at dealing with threats from North Korea's long-range missile program.

The Japanese government provided more than $800 million for the Okinawa-Guam Marines relocation project but U.S. Congress put on hold the disbursement of most of the amount as influential lawmakers questioned its feasibility.

But the act allowed the use of $114 million out of the Japanese fund this time.

Japan and the United States agreed to move the U.S. Marines from Okinawa to reduce the burden on the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

Japan's Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera welcomed the move in Tokyo on Friday.

"We have repeatedly asked U.S. congressional people concerned to properly address the budget for the transfer to Guam on their end. With the one on the U.S. side, the transfer to Guam will finally be able to go ahead," Onodera told reporters.

"As we have made plans for the return of land for Futenma and bases south of Kadena on the basis of this, it is a matter we are happy to welcome," he said.

Both governments confirmed a plan in October that the relocation of Okinawa-stationed Marines to Guam will start in the first half of the 2020s and Japan will shoulder up to $2.8 billion of the total project size of $8.6 billion.