Gates drops hard line on unpopular US Okinawa base

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TOKYO (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has eased pressure on Japan over the huge American military bases in the country, while asking for Tokyo’s help with North Korea.

Gates said Thursday that the United States understands the bases are a “politically complex matter” in Japan. He said the U.S. would be flexible while Japanese political leaders try to blunt popular opposition to the presence of U.S. Marines and loud aircraft on Okinawa island. Previously, U.S. officials made a point of stressing Japan’s obligations in basing the U.S. troops.

Gates also said South Korea would have the right to retaliate if North Korea mounts an attack. But he said the United States, Japan, South Korea and China should try to prevent North Korea from provoking a war.