WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States and Japan agreed Saturday to step up military cooperation and substantially reduce the number of Marines on the strategically important southern island of Okinawa.

The agreement calls for the phased withdrawal of 7,000 Marines from Okinawa to the Pacific island of Guam, a move that is expected to take six years.

There are 14,460 Marines in Japan, the largest Marine contingent based overseas. Nearly all are located on Okinawa, ideally situated for dealing with potential problems in the Pacific. However, Okinawans have long complained of crime, crowding and noise associated with the Marine bases.

The agreement came after talks involving Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Japanese Defense Minister Yoshinori Ono and Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura.

Rumsfeld said at a joint news conference at the Defense Department that the United States and Japan “agreed to findings and recommendations to strengthen the alliance and reduce the impact of the U.S. military on local communities.”

Ono said the agreement represented a “transformation of the alliance” that will provide it with “a fresh start and new energy.”

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