Transcript: Baker Thanks Okinawans for Their Friendship and Support

Following is a transcript of Ambassador Baker's remarks:

Transcript of Ambassador Howard Baker's Remarks
at the Commemoration of the 30th Anniversary
of the Reversion of Okinawa

Okinawa Convention Center
May 19, 2002

Mr. Prime Minister, Governor Inamine, ladies and gentlemen:

Thank you for permitting me to be a part of this commemorative service on the reversion of Okinawa. I take your invitation as a mark of Okinawa's abiding friendship toward America. It is truly an honor to represent the United States of America today.

Distinguished officials and friends: I extend my congratulations and admiration to the people of Okinawa.

You have developed a vibrant community - outward looking and independent-minded. As a visitor here several times now, I can assure you that Okinawan hospitality comes through very warmly and sincerely, and that America reciprocates in full your feelings of friendship.

During the deliberations of the Okinawa reversion bill in 1971, I was, then, pleased to be a member of the United States Senate representing my home state of Tennessee, and, then, to have expressed my support for this measure. Most Americans agreed that reversion was the right thing to do and that the time had come to do so. As a result, the Senate of the United States voted overwhelmingly in favor of the reversion measure.

Okinawa has a central location in a region that has thrived remarkably since the end of World War II. The stability that has resulted from the strength and effectiveness of the U.S.-Japan alliance has been a critical factor in the peaceful progress of the Asia-Pacific region.

The role of our alliance has remained crucial to ensuring the continuing peace and security that we all want. Okinawa has long played a vital role by hosting forward-deployed U.S. Forces. And, for this reason, the people of the rest of Japan, the United States, and the countries throughout the Asia-Pacific area owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Okinawa and the people of this prefecture.

I want to emphasize to you today that America does not lose sight of all this. Speaking on behalf of the government of the United States, I wish to thank you. I wish to thank you for your hospitality to our men and women in the military and to their families.

And I wish to thank you as well for the friendship that exists between our two countries and between America and its men and women in the military and the prefecture of Okinawa.

But we recognize that we have a duty to reciprocate Okinawa's hospitality by comporting ourselves properly and by contributing to the communities of which we are a part.

We will continue our utmost efforts to do so. As a friend and ally, the United States is also eager to move forward to fulfill all the recommendations of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa.

Mr. Prime Minister, Governor Inamine, distinguished officials here, and ladies and gentlemen:

May I take this occasion to thank Japan and the people of Okinawa for their steadfast support following the devastating terrorist attack on our country on September 11th.

We in America were moved by the countless expressions of sympathy that you conveyed, and we deeply appreciate the patience and understanding you have shown during the difficult period as we've contended with an extraordinary new threat to America and to the world.

In closing, let me say that I am optimistic about the future of Okinawa, and America hopes to continue our partnership in many fields. We would like to see Okinawa fully achieve its vision of becoming a prosperous and cosmopolitan community and an active regional hub.

American companies have established a significant commercial presence here. And the United States government has taken steps to strengthen our educational ties. As a part of the effort to be good neighbors, many of our military personnel volunteer their time to teach English and to participate in your community life and the education of your young people.

In the one year that I've been in Japan as U.S. Ambassador, I've discovered that our partnership, our relationship, is much more than just an alliance. It is indeed a friendship between two countries - between Japan and the United States - which is much more important than any alliance, any treaty. It is the most important thing of all. America and Japan are friends.

I see an important role for Okinawa in every dimension of our relationship. I wish you well and congratulate you for what you have done. I offer the best efforts of the United States on your behalf and to be helpful.

Thank you very much.