NAHA, Okinawa -- Okinawa's governor pleaded with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday to remove some of the 28,000 US forces stationed on this Japanese island and ease the environmental impact of military facilities.
In a meeting at his offices, Governor Keiichi Inamine told Rumsfeld he understood that on matters of defense he had to defer to the national government in Tokyo. But he urged Rumsfeld to accept that Okinawans bear too much of Japan's burden as hosts of Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps bases.
"It has been 58 years" since Japan surrendered to US forces to end World War II, Inamine said through an interpreter, and the US military presence has become an economic and social impediment.
Rumsfeld replied that he was not ready to make any decisions about changes on Okinawa because the Pentagon is studying its entire global network of bases, of which Okinawa is an important element. The Pentagon chief reminded Inamine that "this part of the world has seen peace" with US forces present.
Separately, the American ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, said during an appearance with Rumsfeld at Camp Foster in southern Okinawa that although Tokyo has balked at immediately sending troops to Iraq, he believes the government will go ahead with the plan "probably still this year."
Rumsfeld said he came to Okinawa to see the situation firsthand and to hear from US commanders and island officials. After about 40 minutes of talks, which were open to the news media at the Okinawans' initiative, Rumsfeld made clear that he had heard enough and was ready to leave.
"We've listened," he said politely, but firmly. With that, Inamine made a final comment and the talks ended.
Rumsfeld then went to South Korea, where he planned to meet with senior government officials in Seoul today and with US troops tomorrow, wrapping up his first Asia tour since becoming defense secretary in 2001.
Dozens of riot police were at the entrance of the US base in central Seoul where Rumsfeld arrived by helicopter last evening, but there was no sign of protesters.
Although the US force structure on Okinawa is included in the Pentagon's worldwide review, it appears unlikely that Washington will propose any substantial reduction of troops levels on the island.