- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Strategic appeal

The U.S. ambassador in Tokyo yesterday appealed to the citizens of a small city in southern Japan to accept U.S. plans to relocate a group of warplanes to an existing Marine base.

Ambassador J. Thomas Schieffer said the proposal to move 57 planes from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, near Tokyo, to the Marine air station in Iwakuni is part of a strategic realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Mr. Schieffer told reporters at a press conference that he recognized that the move is unpopular in Iwakuni but hoped citizens will understand the need for the relocation.

“I hope that people in Iwakuni and all over Japan will focus on the strategic implications in what we’re doing,” he said. “We hope the strategic objective will not be lost in local politics.”

About 60,000 residents of the city of 100,000 have signed a petition objecting to the move, and the city council has scheduled a March 12 referendum on the proposal. The local chamber of commerce has endorsed the move because of its potential economic benefits to the city.

The relocation has been approved by the national Japanese government.

Asked about the referendum, Mr. Schieffer said, “Democracy is great.”

In November, the ambassador sent a message to chamber Chairman Norimitsu Sasagawa, praising Iwakuni as a city that “plays a vital role in supporting the U.S.-Japanese alliance, as well as peace and security in the Asian-Pacific region.”

Dangerous problem

Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon called Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon the “most dangerous problem” the world faces today, but he hoped that diplomatic, not military, pressure will stop the program.

Mr. Ayalon, in an interview this week with Reuters news agency, said he thinks the United Nation still has time to exert sanctions to stop Iran from achieving its suspected goal of building an atomic bomb.

“All this notion that the situation is predestined or cannot be stopped, it’s not true,” he said. “They have not crossed the point of no return. They don’t have the know-how and equipment they need.”

However, he predicted the Iranian government will have the ability to develop nuclear weapons by the end of next year if it is not stopped.

Mr. Ayalon praised the International Atomic Energy Agency for referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions.

“If they continue, I believe that by the end of ‘06, they will be sufficiently independent. That means they will have the know-how,” he said.

“I am quite optimistic that we have a few weeks, a few months, which will put us in good stead in frustrating the Iranians’ program.”

Mr. Ayalon dismissed notions that Israel would act alone to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities, as it did in the 1980s when it wiped out Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.

“I don’t think it’s for Israel to take the lead,” he said. “It’s for the international community, and we’re part of the international community.”

Bases in Bulgaria

Bulgaria this week assured the U.S. ambassador that talks on establishing American military bases in the Southeast European nation will be completed before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits in April.

Defense Minister Vesselin Bliznakov told Ambassador John Beyrle that the talks are on schedule to locate about 3,000 U.S. troops on bases that also will be used for training Bulgarian forces.

The United States also established bases in Romania as part of a strategic relocation of forces from Central to Eastern Europe to provide easier staging areas in case of emergencies in the Middle East.

“Bliznakov assured [Mr. Beyrle] that talks on setting up the joint military facilities are proceeding on schedule and will be finalized during the upcoming visit to Bulgaria of [Miss Rice],” the minister’s office said Monday.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.


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