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Top US envoy for Asia praises Japan ties

Last Updated: Thursday, November 5, 2009 - 13:39

Tokyo: The top US diplomat for Asia on Thursday hailed Washington`s long-standing alliance with Japan, but made no mention of a row over an American military airbase on the southern island of Okinawa.
Kurt Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, also said "we are extraordinarily pleased" with preparations for a Tokyo visit next week by US President Barack Obama.

"We are fully committed to this alliance," said Campbell after meeting Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada. "We think that we are working very well together and everyone is excited to be back in Japan next week."

Obama will meet new Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who has voiced admiration for the US leader but also promised a less subservient stance toward the superpower than that taken by Japan`s previous conservative governments.

Campbell, who did not take questions from reporters, said Washington is "excited about this next phase in our relationship."

The conciliatory comments came after Okada this week cancelled a visit to Washington for talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with Tokyo citing scheduling conflicts because of a parliamentary session.

Washington and Tokyo have been close allies in the post-war era and the United States has about 47,000 troops based in Japan, more than half of them on Okinawa, where their presence has often rankled local residents.

Hatoyama`s government, which took power in mid-September, has promised to review a 2006 pact on rejigging the US troop presence, with the flashpoint being the Marine Corps Futenma Air Base located in an urban area of Okinawa.

Under the previous bilateral agreement, the base is due to be shifted to a less-populated coastal area of Okinawa by 2014 -- but Japan`s new government has said the base may have to be moved off the island or even out of Japan.

Senior US government and military officials have repeatedly said Washington is in no mood to renegotiate the base relocation agreement for Okinawa, considered a strategic location close to China, Taiwan and North Korea.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, November 5, 2009 - 13:39

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