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Japan to craft new US base plan by year-end -media

IN an effort to defuse growing bilateral tension, Japan will tell US President Barack Obama next month that it will craft a new plan by the year-end to move a US base on Okinawa, the Sankei newspaper reported today.

Concerns are growing about friction over a planned reorganisation of US troops in Japan, which could be the first big test of ties between Washington and a new Japanese government that wants more equal relations with its closest security ally.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week made a blunt call for the planned realignment to be implemented and for Tokyo to make a decision on the issue before Obama's Nov. 12-13 visit to Japan.

A broad deal to reorganise US forces in Japan was agreed in 2006 between Washington and Japan's long-dominant conservative party, which was ousted by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's Democratic Party in an August election.

Central to the deal is a plan to move the functions of the Futenma air base to northern Okinawa, while shifting 8,000 Marines from the island to the US territory of Guam, partly at Japan's expense. Japan is host to about 47,000 US military personnel as part of the decades-old security alliance.

Hatoyama had said he wants the base moved off the island, where many complain about crime, noise, pollution and accidents associated with US bases, but US officials have ruled that out, saying it would undermine broader security agreements.

The Sankei reported that the government planned to come up with a new relocation site within Okinawa, citing unidentified government sources.

Conservative Japanese analysts and media including the Sankei have criticised Hatoyama's administration for mismanaging the feud over Futenma, while others blamed miscommunication between Washington and Japan's month-old government.

"It may have to do with unwarranted optimism on the part of the new Japanese leadership that the Obama government would be more understanding ... and maybe American policymakers misread the Japanese side and thought they could keep doing business as usual," said Sophia University's Koichi Nakano.

"Both sides were wrong, but they have to make adjustments."

"At the end of the day this is going to be settled one way or another, and not be the end of the US-Japan relationship," Nakano added.

Hatoyama said this week that Japan needed more time before making a decision on the Futenma base issue and that he did not regard Obama's visit as the deadline for Japan to reach a conclusion.

"It's about how both sides avoid risks. There is no need to rush," Hatoyama was quoted as saying on Friday by the Kyodo News Agency.


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