NAGO, Okinawa President Clinton told Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Saturday that a recent attack on a local girl by a U.S. Marine "hurt me in the heart," a Japanese official said.
Clinton expressed regret over the incident when the two leaders met at the Group of Eight economic summit, according to a spokesman for the Japanese delegation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The spokesman said the Japanese considered Clinton's comments an apology.
During their meeting, Clinton and Mori agreed Japan would reduce the amount it pays for U.S. bases located in Okinawa, the official said. They also agreed to extend for a fourth year trade talks on a broad range of business sectors, from telecommunications to financial services and pharmaceuticals.
While the American military presence has helped the economy, Okinawans angrily blame U.S. troops for crimes ranging from thefts and assaults to rapes and killings. Local ire flared anew after an unidentified 19-year-old Marine was arrested July 3 for entering a private home, crawling into a 14-year-old girl's bed and fondling her in her sleep.
The spokesman quoted Clinton as telling Mori, "Most of the troops have been good neighbors, but the incident hurt me in the heart." The president was scheduled to address U.S. troops at the Camp Foster Marine base Saturday night.
Upon his arrival Friday, Clinton promised the citizens of Okinawa that the United States would "reduce our footprint on this island" and follow through with the process begun five years ago of consolidating U.S. military bases here. "We take seriously our responsibility to be good neighbors, and it is unacceptable to the United States when we do not meet that responsibility," Clinton said.
When asked whether Clinton offered Mori assurances on U.S. troop discipline, deputy national security adviser Jim Steinberg said Mori thanked Clinton for his statement "about the importance of good neighborliness," and that Clinton "indicated this was something that we were deeply committed to and that we would continue to take every measure that we could."
Clinton is the first U.S. president to visit Okinawa since Dwight Eisenhower made a one-day stop in 1960. The United States returned control of the southern islands to Tokyo in 1972 but still maintains a high military profile. Military bases occupy about 20 percent of Okinawa, and are home to 26,000 troops.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley and Lt. Gen. Earl B. Hailston, the commander of the U.S. Marines on Okinawa, already apologized to Japanese officials for the incident before Clinton's arrival, and imposed a late-night curfew and drinking ban on soldiers.
On Thursday, one day before Clinton's arrival, tens of thousands of Japanese demonstrators held hands around the Kadena U.S. military base to demand the reduction of bases and U.S. servicemen.