Guam - As expected, the United States and Japan issued a joint statement on revisions to their plan to realign forces in the latter country. Although the statement offered by governments didn't provide the exact number of Marines set to relocate to Guam, it essentially did confirm, in part, what we've been reporting all along that the two countries are agreeing to amend the 2006 realignment roadmap and the 2009 Guam International Agreement.

The joint statement, released overnight, confirms the two countries are working on separating the highly contentious issue of the Futenma Replacement Facility from plans to relocate thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. "As part of this joint effort our two governments have started official discussions to adjust our current posture plans set forth in the Realignment Roadmap, in particular delinking both the movement of Marines to Guam and resulting land returns south of Kadena from progress on the Futenma Replacement Facility. We are also reviewing the unit composition and the number of Marines who will relocate to Guam and we continue to be committed to achieving an end-state Marine presence remaining on Okinawa in line with the Roadmap," it read.

Although the controversy over the Futenma Replacement Facility has long stalled the Marines relocation from Okinawa to Guam, Senator Judi Guthertz says it doesn't surprise her much but reaffirmed what she had already learned in the past two weeks. She said, "They can think about the lay down of the Marines independently of the Futenma condition, so that's a really good thing. and the fact of the matter is, it sounds very clear from the joint statement that Japan does want a good number of Marines to leave Okinawa and to go to Guam and perhaps be rotated in some other areas in the Asia Pacific region."

In separating the two issues, it will allow the relocation to occur in spite of intense opposition in Japan over where the FRF will be built. According to the joint statement, the U.S. and Japan do not plan to deviate from the original 2006 agreement in terms of where it will be situated as both governments stated, "We believe that the current Futenma Replacement Facility plan is the only viable way forward."

And although it's been widely reported that the number of Marines to be relocated from Okinawa to Guam would be reduced from 8,000 to 4,700, the joint statement didn't provide any revised figures other than to state those discussions remain ongoing.

Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, however, said in a release that she was notified by Navy Undersecretary Robert Work and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Jackalyne Pfannenstiel that Guam is expected to see a little less than 5,000 Marines, saying, "We expect that Guam will receive 4,700 Marines, but the exact laydown and mixture of those forces has yet to be formalized.  I believe that a permanent Marine presence on Guam is in the best interest of our national security and Guam's civilian community, and I strongly disagree with those who suggest a rotational presence is a viable option."

Work also confirmed the figure to Governor Eddie Calvo's chief policy advisor Arthur Clark in a conference call Tuesday. He says the count is still significant. "But 4,700 is still a significant number of troops to be sending over here and you can consider that the administration just announced its intent to introduce two new rounds of BRACCs and base closures in the States, so where right now the military is planning to do some significant cutting back in the States, the plan is still to develop and expand the forces here on Guam," he said.

Clark believes any discussion to adjust the 2006 roadmap agreement is driven largely in part by the decisions in Congress to make massive defense budget cuts of close to a half-billion dollars needing to be slashed over the next decade.

During today's State Department briefing spokesperson Victoria Nuland acknowledged the budget constraints and issues that remain unresolved in Japan. "As you know, we've been working through these issues for some time. We have also concurrently been working through the new defense posture as a result of the budget cuts which Secretary Panetta has talked about extensively. And as we seek to settle all of the Okinawa issues, we nonetheless concluded that we could move forward with some aspects of the relocation even as we continue to work through the Okinawa - the rest of the Okinawa issues," she said.

Moving forward, island leaders note that residents should recognize that at this point, the buildup will in fact happen and despite some perimeters being unclear at the moment, Guam should expect a good number of marines on island along with the associated infrastructure.    

Meanwhile Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who has been critical of the cost for the realignment said the joint announcement represents another acknowledgment by the governments of the United States and Japan that the 2006 Roadmap Agreement must be adjusted to preserve the vital strength of our alliance and the stability of the region. 

He added, "In that regard, the U.S. Congress has laid out two firm requirements regarding our basing system on Okinawa and Guam. These requirements are directly tied to defense funding.  They must be met in order to ensure a comprehensive analysis before moving forward. Those requirements, which were included in the 2012 defense budget mandates a master plan to be submitted and for an independent assessment of U.S. security interests and deployment plans in the Pacific Region be conducted."