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Japan says not ready to agree US base row deal with Clinton

Japan won`t be ready to resolve a row over a controversial US airbase when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits Japan.

Tokyo: Japan won`t be ready to resolve a row
over a controversial US airbase when Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton visits Japan later this week, Foreign Minister
Katsuya Okada said on Tuesday.

Clinton will visit Japan on Friday, mainly to discuss a
sunken South Korean navy ship now suspected to have been
caused by a North Korean attack, as well as Iran`s nuclear
programme, Okada said in a news conference.

Tokyo and Washington have quarrelled for months over
where to relocate the locally unpopular US Marine Corps
Futenma Air Station now located in a city area of the southern
island of Okinawa.

Japan`s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama after taking power
last year promised to move the base off the island but has
since gone back on the pledge and said the base will be
relocated on Okinawa as agreed with Washington in 2006.

He has faced a storm of protest on Okinawa, but his
compromise plan, including building a planned offshore runway
on stilts to minimise environmental damage, has reportedly
also been rejected by US officials.

Okinawa hosts about half of the 47,000 US troops in Japan
and 75 percent of their military facilities in the country.

Okada, asked whether Japan and the United States are
nearing a solution over the relocation of the base, said
"there will not yet be" a deal.

The base row "is not the purpose of her visit," Okada
said, stressing however that the US military presence in Japan
"is extremely important for Japan`s security."

Asked if he would discuss with Clinton how to strengthen
the 50-year-old Japan-US military alliance, Okada said: "I
can`t say that it won`t be touched on at all, but that`s not
our main issue."

Japanese media reports have said a working-level panel on
the strengthening of the alliance has been suspended because
of the base row.

Since its defeat in World War II, officially pacifist
Japan has relied on a massive US military presence to
guarantee its security, initially as an occupier and later as
an ally.


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