(TOKYO) -- A senior U.S. diplomat supervising Japan affairs stepped down Thursday over controversial remarks he reportedly made about Okinawa to American University students in Washington.
The U.S. embassy in Tokyo released a statement saying Kevin Maher, former director of the State Department's Office of Japan Affairs, has been replaced by longtime diplomat Rust Deming.
News of Maher's resignation overshadowed Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell's two-day visit to Tokyo.
In a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, Campbell offered yet another apology for Maher's comments.
"These in no way reflect the attitudes of warmth and gratitude and friendship that the United States has for the people of Okinawa," he said. "We are deeply apologetic for this controversy."
The State Department has been playing damage control since reports of Maher's comments disparaging Okinawans surfaced Monday. The alleged remarks were made during a lecture in Washington about "Military Bases and Their Impacts on Okinawa" and were intended to be off-the-record.
Student notes obtained by Japanese media revealed Maher called residents of Japan's southern island "lazy" and "masters of extortion," an apparent reference to financial subsidies Tokyo pays to Okinawans in exchange for hosting U.S. military bases on the island.
Word of Maher's comments quickly spread through the Japanese media and prompted the Okinawa prefectural assembly and Naha city to adopt a resolution condemning the diplomat's statements and demanding a retraction and apology.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio