SEOUL — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended the Navy’s use of sonar in the Pacific and told the governor of Okinawa, Japan, that scientific studies have shown it poses little danger to the environment.
In a meeting with Gov. Keiichi Inamine, Mr. Rumsfeld was presented with a list of the local government’s complaints about the U.S. military on the island, which is a strategic base and home to 17,600 Marines.
A U.S. official said the Navy’s sonar is used at several bases. Recently, it was used in Okinawa to detect the presence of Chinese submarines.
The governor’s list included a call for banning the use of “new low-frequency sonar made for underwater detection” around Japan, according to a copy of the petition.
Mr. Inamine also said the number and size of U.S. bases on Okinawa should be reduced, and noise from training exercises and flights should be curbed.
“Training is increasing and also the noise,” Mr. Inamine said. “For the people of Okinawa, this is unbearable.”
Mr. Rumsfeld responded that the U.S. military presence in Asia has resulted in peace in the region for decades, a peace that has allowed Japan to become one of Asia’s strongest economies.
The governor told Mr. Rumsfeld during a 30-minute public meeting that the people of Okinawa are not anti-American, but they feel that more of Okinawa’s 27,000 U.S. troops should be based in other parts of Japan.
Okinawa is home to the Air Force’s Kadena Air Base and the Marines’ Camp Foster, home to the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the Pentagon has looked closely at the issue of low-frequency sonar and found that the impact on marine mammals is minimal.
“As you know, the United States arranged for some scientific studies to get the best scientific information possible, and at least thus far it shows there is little, if any, impact on marine mammals,” Mr. Rumsfeld said.
Some environmental groups have charged that the Navy’s low-frequency Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System is harming whales, causing nitrogen narcosis and leading the mammals to beach themselves. Defense officials say the sonar is a vital element of antisubmarine warfare.
In Asia, the U.S. official did not elaborate on the detection of a Chinese submarine near Okinawa. China operates a large fleet of submarines and is in the process of a major military buildup that includes advanced submarines and submarine weapons.
Mr. Rumsfeld visited Okinawa yesterday as part of a six-day tour of U.S. military bases in Asia and a plan to restructure and resize U.S. forces around the world.
Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday he is “not in a position to make specific proposals” about how that restructuring would affect U.S. forces in Japan.
“I’m here in Okinawa to listen, and to learn and to see firsthand what’s taking place,” he said.
Okinawa is strategically located several hundred miles southwest of Tokyo, and troops there can be moved rapidly to hot spots like North Korea or the Taiwan Strait.
On other issues, Mr. Rumsfeld said the new plan to speed up self-rule in Iraq does not mean that U.S. troops will pull out.
During an interview aboard his Air Force C-32 jet, he said, “The timetable or the way ahead that the [Iraqi] Governing Council has been describing relates to the governance aspects of the country and not to the security aspects. That’s on a separate track.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, said during a meeting with Marine troops in Okinawa that he believes Japan will send troops to Iraq this year, despite the decision last week to postpone a deployment of Japanese forces.
Mr. Baker, who traveled to Okinawa with Mr. Rumsfeld, said the troop decision is “still very much in their minds.”
“But I think bottom line is that the Japanese will still dispatch a group of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq — and probably still this year,” Mr. Baker said.
In Seoul, Mr. Rumsfeld will meet today with senior South Korean defense and military officials.