|The United States and Japan agreed to drop a 2014 deadline for building a new airstrip on Okinawa [Reuters]
The US and Japan have agreed to drop a 2014 deadline for building a new airstrip on Okinawa and transferring about 8,000 US marines from the Japanese island to Guam, top officials said in a statement.
"Completion of the FRF (Futenma Replacement Facility) and the Marine relocation will not meet the previously targeted date of 2014," the two allies said in a statement following cabinet-level talks in Washington on Tuesday.
They vowed to complete the projects "at the earliest possible date after 2014".
The widely anticipated delay in the troop realignment was announced after Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state and Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, hosted their respective Japanese counterparts Takeaki Matsumoto and Toshimi Kitazawa for annual Security Consultative Committee talks.
Tokyo and Washington agreed in 2006 to shift the US marines' Futenma airbase in Okinawa to a less crowded area on the island, which is host to about half the US troops in Japan.
But successive Japanese governments have yet to win support for that plan from residents of Okinawa, who often associate US bases with noise, pollution and crime.
Japan's March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster has caused further delays in decision-making in Tokyo.
"The decision announced today on the Futenma replacement facility configuration along with other elements of the 2006 realignment roadmap shows we are making steady progress toward modernizing US forward presence in the region," Gates said.
"It is critical that we move forward with the relocation of Futenma and the construction of facilities in Guam for the US Marines ... Doing so will reduce the impact of our presence on local residents in Okinawa while allowing us to maintain capabilities critical to the alliance in Japan."
Kitazawa said the Japanese government would continue to work to build consensus on Futenma with the Okinawa government and residents.
"In the aftermath of the earthquake, the understanding of the significance of the stationing of US forces in Japan including the Marine Corps in Okinawa I believe has been understood," Gates said, referring to massive aid efforts by the US military after the disasters.