Japan, US agree to move 4,700 marines to Guam

JAPAN - Japan and the United States reached a broad agreement to transfer 4,700 US marines stationed in Okinawa Prefecture to Guam, scaling down from the originally planned 8,000, Japanese government sources have said.

The move comes as part of a review of a 2006 Japan-US bilateral agreement on the realignment of US forces in the country. The Japanese and US governments are expected to simultaneously make an official announcement as early as next Monday.

The two governments will likely confirm that they will strengthen the Japan-US alliance, with the review of the bilateral agreement as a main pillar, during a summit meeting between Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and US President Barack Obama slated for this spring.

The United States originally planned to transfer 8,000 US marines from Okinawa to Guam in accordance with the 2006 bilateral agreement. However, the review of the agreement is likely to result in a number of marines going to other places.

The United States also plans to separate the transfer of the marines from the issue of relocating the US Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the prefecture, although the transfer and relocation issues were originally intended to be carried out in an integrated manner.

Hawaii and the Philippines are among possible locations for the Okinawa-based marines who will not go to Guam.

The US government is studying the introduction of a "rotation system" in which US marines would be rotated among bases in various countries, sources said.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government plans to press the United States to transfer 8,000 marines out of Okinawa Prefecture as originally planned.

The scale-down of the transfer of US marines to Guam comes against the backdrop of a drastic reduction in the US defense budget.

The official announcement of the bilateral agreement is expected to be made Monday, Eastern Standard Time, because Obama is to deliver his budget message speech for fiscal 2013 on that day.

Democratic Party of Japan Policy Research Committee Chairman Seiji Maehara told reporters Sunday the review of the realignment plan will ease the burden on Okinawa Prefecture.

"It was originally decided that 8,000 US marines were to be transferred to Guam when the relocation of the Futenma base is carried out. But [under the new agreement] about 4,700 marines are to be transferred in advance [of the Futenma relocation]," Maehara said.

"We've not changed our intention of eventually reducing the number [of US marines based in Okinawa] to 10,000," he added.