HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hours before any formal announcement from Washington, the offices of Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Sen. Dan Inouye said the Pentagon intends to move about 2,700 Marines from Okinawa to Hawaii.
The statements Tuesday came as Japanese officials pressed for a specific plan to reduce U.S. forces in Okinawa. Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba told reporters in Tokyo he hoped for an announcement before Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda arrives in Washington in a few days for a visit.
Japan and the United States agreed in 2006 to reduce the U.S. military presence in Okinawa by about half, and at the time the intention was to relocate 9,000 service personnel to Guam. Japan was to chip in billions of dollars' worth of funding.
Since then, both U.S. and Japanese officials have faced budgetary constraints they didn't have six years ago. The new plan is to transfer 4,700 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, then, according to Sen. Inouye, move 2,700 of them to Hawaii.
This is the most specific number yet provided on transfers to Hawaii, and of it doesn't change it could mean more than 5,000 additional residents when dependents are counted.
It is a large enough change in the population to have a significant effect on the economy, especially in Central Oahu where military families are major consumer force. Military households are important to businesses ranging from small shops in Wahiawa to the largest retailers at Pearlridge. A large redeployment of Marines to Oahu would be a significant boost to businesses in Kailua and Kaneohe.
Japanese news media report that the new plan calls for the gradual return to Japan of five bases or facilities used by U.S. forces, including Camp Lester, Camp Foster, Camp Kinser, Naha Naval Base, and the Army tank farm. All of these are in the southern region of the main Okinawa island. Most of these areas will be returned as U.S. forces are moved to Guam, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if everybody was on the same page on Capitol Hill. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday, saying, "Any new proposal should not be considered final until it has the support of the Congress.." The letter was also signed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.), the senior members of the committee.
Levin and Inouye may have had an opportunity to discuss the matter Tuesday. Both were in a delegation of seven senators welcoming a delegation of Japanese parliamentary legislators visiting Washington D.C.
Kyodo said U.S. and Japanese officials agreed this week to keep Japan's share of the cost burden at $2.8 billion, with U.S. officials dropping a previous request to up the Japanese contribution to $4.1 billion.
The Pentagon said that Defense Secretary Panetta and Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka had discussed the matter by phone this week, while Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he recently met with the governor of Okinawa, Hirokazu Nakaima, on these same matters.
Both Australia and the Philippines have signaled a willingness to accept some of the Marines who will be moved from Okinawa.