Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his Japanese counterpart Satoshi Morimoto discussed on Monday regional affairs and Japanese concerns over safety of the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft the United States is deploying in Japan.
Initial media reports did not elaborate details of the Defense Minister-level talks held in Tokyo.
Deployment of the Osprey MV-22 at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa prefecture has provoked strong opposition from residents, who say the military aircraft is accident-prone.
A dozen Ospreys are currently being held in Iwakuni city in Yamaguchi prefecture ahead of their deployment in Okinawa.
The Assembly of the city of Iwakuni in June adopted a motion opposing the temporary deployment of the aircraft there, while massive protest rallies were held in Okinawa as well as outside the Japanese Parliament building in Tokyo early this month urging the Pentagon and the Japanese government to drop the plan to permanently deploy Ospreys in a crowded island like Okinawa.
Morimoto told Iwakuni mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda last week that operations of the controversial transport aircraft at Futenma may not begin early next month as originally scheduled, in the context of increasing public concern over its safety.
Fukuda said flights of the aircraft should not be allowed unless the safety concerns of local residents were alleviated.
Japanese people's concern over the safety of the Bell Boeing-made Osprey arises out of recent crashes involving the aircraft, one resulting in the death of two U.S. airmen in the West African country of Morocco in April. Another variant of the aircraft crashed in June in the U.S. state of Florida, injuring five crew members, although U.S. officials said the accident was not due to mechanical problems. Concerns heightened further when an MV-22 made an emergency landing in a residential area outside a Marine base in Jacksonville, North Carolina, this month.
Later, in a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, Panetta made it clear that the U.S. won't take sides over Diaoyu Islands and wants a peaceful resolution between China and Japan.
Panetta on Sunday began his third trip to Asia as Defense Secretary with the aim of further advancing engagement on the U.S. strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region.
After two days of engagements in Japan, Panetta will leave for China and New Zealand to meet with his defense counterparts in those countries.
Panetta's tour comes at a time of heightened tensions between China and Japan over a dispute regarding the ownership of a cluster of islands in the East China Sea.
by RTT Staff Writer
For comments and feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org