TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States government has replaced the head of the Japan desk at the State Department, the U.S. embassy said in a statement on Thursday, after reported comments by the diplomat had threatened to strain ties between the two close allies.
Japanese media had quoted Kevin Maher, director of the office of Japan affairs at the U.S. State Department, as telling U.S. college students that residents of the southern island of Okinawa -- host to about half the U.S. military in Japan -- were masters of "manipulation" and "extortion".
Embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan has promised to implement a 2006 agreement to shift a U.S. Marine airbase to a less populated part of Okinawa, but faces stiff opposition from local residents, many of whom associate the U.S. bases with crime, accidents, noise and pollution.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell conveyed his deep regrets about the statements attributed to Maher and repeated that they did not reflect U.S. government policy, the U.S. embassy said in a statement, announcing that veteran diplomat Rust Deming had been appointed as director of the office of Japan affairs at the state department.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Chris Gallagher)