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Rumsfeld cancels Japan visit due to base row - media
Updated: 2005-10-06 11:43

U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has cancelled a visit to Japan planned for later this month as Tokyo and Washington have failed to narrow their differences over relocation of a U.S. military base in Japan, a major daily reported on Thursday.

The Asahi Shimbun said plans had been made for Rumsfeld to visit Tokyo around October 21 or 22 for talks with Japanese officials including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, part of Washington's plans to transform its military globally into a more flexible force.

But the two sides have been at odds over the relocation of Futenma air base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, a key element in redeploying the nearly 50,000 American military personnel stationed in the country.

Talks between senior defence officials in Washington this week ended without much progress.

Japan's top government spokesman said the Rumsfeld visit was never finalised but added that the allies would continue to reach an agreement on changes to the U.S. military presence.

"It was not decided and it has not been cancelled," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference when asked about Rumsfeld's visit.

Quoting several Japanese government sources, the Asahi said Rumsfeld would go ahead with a tour of the region, including visits to China, South Korea, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

The realignment of U.S. forces in Japan has been complicated by Japanese internal wrangling due to a string of crimes, accidents and environmental problems associated with American bases which make the Japanese public reluctant to take on the burden of hosting U.S. troops.

Tokyo wants Futenma to be incorporated into another U.S. base on Okinawa, while Washington wants a new offshore facility built for the Marines.

The two allies had planned to draft an interim report on the realignment by the end of October so it could be approved at a bilateral summit expected in November, but the schedule may be delayed because of the spat over Futenma, media reports have said.

While one aim of the transformation is to lessen Japan's burden of hosting U.S. forces, the other is to forge a closer military cooperation between the allies.

In a separate report on Thursday, the Nihon Keizai (Nikkei) financial daily said the two sides had agreed to have the Japanese military play a larger role helping out the Americans in anti-terror and disaster relief operations.

The Nikkei said they were eyeing the use of high-tech radar planes in the Japanese military to provide U.S. forces information on terrorist groups.

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