Tokyo: Ambassador John Roos welcomed last week`s US-Japan accord to move a key Marine base to a less crowded part of Okinawa, but said there was still plenty of work to do to carry out the plan — which is vigorously opposed by island residents.
Roos said relations between the two allies remains strong despite a months-long dispute over where to move Marine Air Station Futenma, located in the middle of a city in Okinawa, which hosts more than half the 47,000 US troops in Japan under a security pact.
Ties with Washington were strained in recent months as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sought to relocate Futenma outside the island. But after finding no viable alternatives, he last week ended up sticking with a 2006 agreement with Washington to move it to less populated, northern part of the island.
"This is an important step, and we still have a lot of work to be done," Roos told a small group of international journalists at the US embassy in Tokyo. "While we had to work through, and continue to work through, some difficult issues, the alliance and the overall relationship is strong."
Roos declined to say how Washington might deal with intense local opposition to the move. But he did say that the US is committed to reducing the impact of American military bases on Okinawa, pointing out that the Futenma move is part of a broader reorganization plan that will send 8,000 Marines and their dependents to the US territory of Guam.
Once these moves are completed, 70 percent of the base land in southern and central Okinawa, the most densely populated areas, will be returned to Japan, he said.
"It`s the goal of both our governments to close Futenma as quickly as possible," he said.
Roos, who formerly headed a law firm in California`s Silicon Valley, also said he welcomed the "green alliance" commitment in the joint agreement issued on Friday to introduce renewable energy technology into US bases in Japan.