U.S. envoy Kennedy to attend memorial ceremony in Okinawa

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy will attend a memorial ceremony in Okinawa Prefecture on June 23 to commemorate victims of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

It will be the second visit to Okinawa by Kennedy, who assumed the ambassadorial post last November, following one in February. Last year, Kennedy's predecessor John Roos attended the ceremony as U.S. ambassador to Japan for the first time since Walter Mondale in 1995.

A U.S. envoy's participation in the annual ceremony for the second straight year may be an indication that Washington is trying to ease friction stemming from the planned relocation of a U.S. military base in the prefecture and build confidence with local residents.

This year marks the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Okinawa in World War II that claimed more than 200,000 lives, including 12,000 U.S. servicemen. A memorial service for the war dead will be held at the Peace Memorial Park in the city of Itoman, the site of the final stage of the battle.

A meeting between Kennedy and Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is being arranged to discuss ways to reduce burdens on Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, and promote businesses in the southern island prefecture, the sources said.

In a meeting with Nakaima, the daughter of assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy is expected to seek cooperation on the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station within the prefecture, which has stirred fierce local opposition.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo will announce Kennedy's second Okinawa visit as soon as it makes a formal decision on it, the sources said.