Thursday, December 10, 2009

Futenma talks likely to resume

Futenma talks likely to resume

December 11, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Discussions between the United States and Japan on the relocation of the Futenma Marine Corps air base may resume as early as next week, according to The Associated Press.

Just days ago, talks between the two countries regarding Futenma had been suspended, with no restart date set.

But now Japan's newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he hopes to meet with President Barack Obama next week to offer his proposals on the relocation of Futenma, the AP reported.

Members of Hatoyama's Cabinet are working to hand over the proposal to Obama on the side of the 192-nation U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen next week, though Hatoyama has not officially asked for a meeting, according to the AP.

The relocation of the Futenma base is just one provision in the bilateral agreement signed between Japan and the United States in 2006, and it's also the most contentious part of the agreement. Obama has granted the Japanese leadership more time to review the agreement, but the U.S. Defense Department says the remainder of the realignment plan cannot move forward until Futenma's replacement facility is finalized, the AP reported.

Washington and Tokyo agreed in 2006 to relocate the base to a site farther north so it poses less of a threat and disturbance to the residents surrounding it. Both governments reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement earlier this year when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japan's then- Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone signed the agreement again in February.

However, Hatoyama has responded to the concern of Okinawans who want the base moved off their island entirely, and has expressed his support for moving the base elsewhere, according to the AP.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa have said it would be difficult to find a site not on the island, and have suggested honoring the current agreement.

Two possible locations that have been considered thus far are Guam and Iwo To, the former Iwo Jima.

Already officials in Washington have agreed to move about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

Kitazawa, who was visiting Guam on Wednesday to inspect the site for the proposed transfer of Marines warned that pushing for a plan that deviates from the current agreement would hurt trust between the allies, according to the AP.

"Defense Minister Kitazawa's visit is an important step in the process of carrying out agreements between the U.S. and Japan to realign forces in the Pacific," added acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roger Natsuhara, according to a press release issued by the Joint Guam Program Office.

Nearly 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed across Japan under a post-World War II bilateral security pact.

Pacific Daily News reporter Amritha Alladi contributed to this report.

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