U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, making her first visit to Okinawa in hopes of winning support for a U.S. military base relocation plan, pledged Wednesday that Washington would do its best to reduce the burden of its heavy troop presence there.
"The United States is committed to working with you and the government of Japan to make that happen as rapidly as possible," Kennedy told local leaders at a reception hosted by the U.S. consul-general.
More than 300 people rallied ahead of her arrival late Tuesday to protest the base relocation plans, waving signs that said "No base."
The U.S. government wants to relocate an American military base on Okinawa, the Marine Corps Futenma air station, to Nago. The plan is backed by Okinawa’s governor, but many other people, including Nago's mayor, want Futenma moved completely off the island.
About half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan are on Okinawa, which comprises less than 1 percent of Japan's territory. The U.S. has proposed a broad plan to consolidate and reduce its troop presence on the island, including a 1996 agreement to move the Futenma air station away from its current populated area.
During talks earlier Wednesday, Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima expressed hopes officials could work together on problems related to the U.S. bases.
"There are various problems and tasks such as crimes, accidents as well as environmental issues," he told Kennedy. "We would like to seek and urge your help so as to resolve the issue fundamentally and to reduce our burden of having U.S. bases."
Kennedy reportedly will see the base relocation site before departing Thursday.
The Associated Press