US poised to withdraw 4,700 Marines from Japan
The redeployment was originally planned to take place in tandem with the shuttering of the base at Futenma, a crowded urban area, and the opening of a new facility in a sparsely populated coastal zone.
But Washington has become increasingly frustrated by Japanese foot-dragging on the issue, which has dominated Okinawan public life for years.
A formal announcement that Washington will go ahead with the redeployment is expected later Wednesday following talks in Washington between senior representatives from each government, two US officials told AFP.
Under a 2006 plan the United States and Japan agreed 8,000 Marines would leave the tropical Japanese archipelago, bound for the American territory of Guam.
At the same time Marine Corps Air Station Futenma would close and a new facility would be built at Henoko on the east coast.
But many Okinawans, angry at decades of shouldering the burden of more than half of the around 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan, are opposed to the plan and say other parts of the country should play host.
The expected announcement could cause problems for Tokyo, which was touting the reduction in troop numbers as a carrot to get Okinawans to accept the unpopular base move.
“What we’re looking to do is de-link the movement of forces to Guam and the Futenma replacement facility,” one US defense official said.
By scaling back the US military footprint, “it will reduce some of the stress” on Okinawa, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
US defense officials and military officers said they could not confirm earlier Japanese reports that a further 3,300 Marines would be redeployed to other countries in Asia.
On Wednesday the Yomiuri and the Asahi newspapers said Tokyo was resisting a US plan to send some Marines to an existing facility in Iwakuni in western Japan, while Washington was also eyeing redeployments to Australia, Hawaii, the Philippines or South Korea.
The Yomiuri said the new plan would also include the return of some other US military sites in southern Okinawa, moves that could help assuage anger among voters on the island chain.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told parliament on Wednesday he had no intention of abandoning the plan to close Futenma.
“We definitely have to avoid fixing the site of the Futenma air base at the current place. There’s no change in our plans to relocate the base to Henoko,” he said.
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