Coalition leader wants US base off Okinawa
Friday, 18 December 2009 04:32 by Eric Talmadge Associated Press
NAHA, Japan (AP)— The leader of one of Japan's ruling coalition parties said Wednesday she wants a U.S. Marine base moved off the southern island of Okinawa, deepening a dispute with Washington over the future of the airfield.
Mizuho Fukushima, head of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party, said that as a member of the Cabinet she supports the closure and removal of the base.
"I am optimistic something can be done to move the base off Okinawa or out of the country," she said after a meeting with Okinawa's governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, in the local capital of Naha.
"I also think it would be best if the base could be moved off Okinawa," Nakaima said.
Under intense pressure from his political base, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Japan needs several more months to decide, prompting the U.S. Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James Conway, to warn that the base's status is "absolutely vital to the defense that we provide for the entire region."
Fukushima, the leader of the smallest group in Japan's three-party ruling coalition, has hinted her party would withdraw from the government if the base is not moved off Okinawa. Her staunch opposition to the previous plan is seen as a primary factor behind Hatoyama's reluctance to decide on a relocation site.
The U.S. had hoped for a resolution by the end of the year, but Hatoyama said a hasty decision would be irresponsible.
Hatoyama has promised that Tokyo will adopt a less subservient relationship with Washington, but has also stressed the U.S. security alliance is the cornerstone of Japan's diplomacy.
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo expressed disappointment Hatoyama’s decision to delay making a final decision on the implementation of the 2006 plan.
“Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone signed the Guam International Agreement in February of this year which codified the implementation plan for realignment of military forces in Japan to include the transfer of Marines from Okinawa to Guam. This agreement was reached after lengthy discussions and negotiations,” Bordallo said.
She noted that difficult decisions were reached in the agreement but they are the best options available that allow the alliance between the two nations to remain strong.
“I believe that with additional time, Prime Minister Hatoyama’s administration will come to the same conclusion as the Obama administration and previous governments in Japan that this is the best deal,” Bordallo said.
The congresswoman cited the importance of getting a commitment from the government of Japan to provide funding for the new airfield as well as the realignment of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
“This fiscal commitment in the forthcoming Government of Japan fiscal year 2010 budget is important to continuing the U.S. government’s commitment to the implementation plan,” Bordallo said. “I firmly believe that moving forward with the implementation plan is critical to ensuring that of both our nations are postured to effectively respond to current and emerging threats in the Asia-Pacific region.”