U.S. air base’s relocation causing strain to U.S., Japan ties


TOKYO — The relationship of trust between Japan and the
United States “could be lost” if the relocation plan for a major U.S.
air base in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture is scrapped, Japanese Foreign Minister
Katsuya Okada warned during a visit to the prefecture.

“If the Japan-U.S. agreement can’t be implemented and
we unilaterally scrap it, the trustful relationship would be lost,” Okada
said at a press conference in Naha on Saturday evening. “I’m very
concerned about the current state of the Japan-U.S. alliance.”

The administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is
reviewing a 2006 bilateral agreement over the relocation of the U.S. Marine
Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan. Hatoyama has decided to postpone a
decision on the issue to next year, a move that has triggered consternation in

Okada called on the prime minister to make a political
decision as quickly as possible.

“Though it won’t be easy (to resolve the issue by the
end of the year), we need to break this deadlock,” Okada said.

Okada met with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in the
governor’s official residence in Naha Saturday evening to explain the current state
of the Japan-U.S. talks.

Earlier in the day, Okada held meetings with supporters of
the Democratic Party of Japan in Nago and elsewhere in the prefecture to
exchange opinions on the relocation.

Many people at the meetings spoke of their desire to have
the U.S. military facility moved outside the prefecture. Although Okada
listened to their opinions, he did not make any promises.

“I understand your feelings, but the U.S. side is
standing firm. If the current relocation plan is scrapped, the risks (to local
residents) posed by Futenma will remain,” he said.

Okada suggested if the Japan-U.S. agreement to relocate the
air station to Nago’s Henoko district is not implemented, the land the air
station occupies will not be returned and the facility will remain where it is.

Okada’s remark echoed concerns expressed by the U.S. side
during bilateral talks Friday.

Also Saturday evening, Hatoyama met with Defense Minister
Toshimi Kitazawa for 50 minutes at his official residence to discuss the
Futenma issue.

“We have to consider a wide range of issues, including
the time element,” Hatoyama said after the meeting. “Japan-U.S.
relations are important, so our discussion covered these matters. (A
conclusion) still isn’t in sight.”

Meanwhile, Okada has abandoned his proposal to consolidate
the functions of Futenma Air Station into those of nearby U.S. Kadena Air Base
due to a lack of support for the plan.

Okada had floated the Kadena idea as an alternative to the
relocation plan.

The United States opposed the proposed consolidation, as did
the municipal governments of Kadenacho — where the air base is located — and
nearby municipalities that were concerned about additional noise problems that
would accompany the move.

“I’ve said from the beginning it’s a difficult issue,
and there isn’t much wiggle room,” Okada said at the press conference.

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.