Envoy: U.S. working hard to resolve Futenma issues
By David Allen and Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, December 2, 2009
NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima wants air operations at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to start being phased out as soon as possible, regardless of the ongoing review of the overall 2006 military realignment plan.
Nakima delivered the same message in separate meetings Monday — in Tokyo with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and later on Okinawa with U.S. Ambassador John Roos.
He handed Hatoyama a formal request urging him to develop a “clear and concrete policy in order to remove the danger posed by the air operations at the earliest possible date.”
“It is a matter of urgency to relieve the residents from the fear of aircraft accidents and noise pollution,” he wrote. “Okinawa voices are growing to demand the operation be moved outside Okinawa.”
The sweeping 2006 realignment plan calls, in part, for relocating Futenma’s air operations in urban Ginowan to a new air facility to be built at rural Camp Schwab. But Japan’s new government, which took office in September, promptly began calls for reviewing the project.
In meeting with Nakaima, Roos indicated that he still believed replacing MCAS Futenma with the Camp Schwab air facility was the best option. The U.S. has long said the project is the linchpin that will eventually allow more than 8,000 Marines to be moved off Okinawa to Guam.
“As you know, the United States believes that the Futenma replacement is the sole, the best and only viable option,” Roos told the governor at a meeting in Naha open to the press. “We are working through the issues.”
In the past, Nakaima said he supported the move to Camp Schwab because he thought it was a done deal. He has recently said he prefers the Marines to move its air operations off his island.
Hatoyama’s ministers have been divided on the issue — some have called for scrapping the relocation agreement and moving Marine air operations outside Okinawa, while others suggested adjustments be made in the current plan or that the Marines move air operations to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. U.S. officials have previously dismissed the Kadena option as unworkable.
Hatoyama told the governor that a decision on Futenma will be made through ongoing talks between the U.S. and Japan in a working group. He did not indicate a deadline, according to Okinawa officials.
During the Naha meeting, Nakaima asked Roos, who is a member of the working group, when they might complete their review.
Pausing a moment, Roos replied, “As soon as possible,” drawing laughter from the press and others in the room.
“We are working diligently to resolve the issue.”