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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 27, 2001 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---A U.S. Defense Department official said the Northern Marianas is being considered as a site for U.S. military bases in the Pacific.

Frederick C. Smith, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs, made the comments in a letter to the CNMI’s Washington Rep. Juan N. Babauta.

Smith said: "As you note in your letter, the decisions that the U.S. will soon be making regarding our defense strategy and force structure are highly complex. Should there be a need to realign forces or activities in the Pacific region, the availability of locations in the Northern Mariana Islands will certainly be considered."

Last month, Babauta told federal authorities that Tinian could be an alternative site for U.S. military bases in Japan's Okinawa, where the Americans are under increasing pressure to cut back their military presence.

Babauta, in a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said Tinian is strategically located in the Asia Pacific region.

He said parts of Tinian, as well as Farallon de Mendenilla, are leased to the U.S. military for air and naval target practice.

There have been discussions to void the lease agreement of Tinian with the U.S. military to make room for economic development. But Babauta believes the military’s presence also contributes to jump-starting economic activities on the island.

The U.S military already has major bases just south of the Northern Marianas on the island of Guam.

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