US defense chief seeks deeper ties in first Asia visit
TOKYO, April 8 (AP) — The first revision of the U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines in 17 years will "transform" the bilateral alliance, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Wednesday.
The guidelines, expected to be formally approved in about three weeks, "will help us respond flexibly to the full scope of the challenges we face, both in the Asia-Pacific and around the globe," he said at a news conference after meeting his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo.
Carter, who travels to South Korea later this week, is on his first trip to Asia since becoming defense secretary in February.
Asked about the Mideast, Carter said the chaos in Yemen is making it harder to conduct counterterrorism operations against al-Qaida's branch there. The group, known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, is considered a threat to Western targets including the United States.
"That doesn't mean that we don't continue to take steps to protect ourselves, we have to do it in a different way, but we do and we are," he said, without offering any specifics.
The al-Qaida group is taking advantage of the disorder to seize territory, he said. He also confirmed that the U.S. is providing intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and logistics information and "some resupply of equipment and munitions" to Saudi Arabia, which has launched air strikes against the rebels in neighboring Yemen.
Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said that he and Carter agreed that relocating a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa to another part of the island is the "only solution" to closing Futenma base, which lies in an urban area.
Many in Okinawa, including the current governor, oppose the construction of the replacement base in a less populated area, arguing that the facility should be moved off Okinawa entirely.
The defense guidelines are expected to lay out the framework for Japan to play a bigger role in regional security, as the government loosens constitutional restrictions on the use of its military.