Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gov't sets Futemma policy, puts off naming possible relocation site

Gov't sets Futemma policy, puts off naming possible relocation site

Dec 14 09:39 PM US/Eastern

(AP) - TOKYO, Dec. 15 (Kyodo) — The Japanese government put off a decision Tuesday to pick a possible site for relocating a U.S. military airfield in Okinawa until next year, possibly with an eye to seeking to amend a related accord reached between Japan and the United States in 2006.

Putting the decision on hold is part of the policy Tokyo adopted Tuesday for dealing with the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station and is likely to further frustrate the United States, which has called on Japan to swiftly abide by the existing plan.

No deadline was set for the relocation site to be decided, according to ruling party officials.

But apparently out of consideration to the United States, the Japanese government will earmark expenses related to the existing relocation plan in the fiscal 2010 budget.

The policy, finalized during a meeting of senior officials of the three ruling coalition parties, also includes setting up a working- level consultation body among them to discuss the issue and considering where to relocate the Futemma facility, including the site in Okinawa agreed on in the bilateral agreement.

"We have agreed that the three parties will consider how to reduce the burden of the Futemma facility (imposed on the local residents)," said Tomoko Abe, a Social Democratic Party lawmaker who attended the meeting.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told reporters earlier in the morning that Japan will swiftly convey its policy to the United States once it is decided.

The Futemma relocation issue has emerged as a major sticking point between Japan and the United States since the Democratic Party of Japan launched a coalition government in September with a pledge to move toward reexamining the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

As part of the 2006 accord on the realignment, which took years to reach, the heliport functions of the Futemma facility will be relocated to a new facility to be built in a less populated part of Okinawa and 8,000 Marines will be moved from the southern Japanese island to Guam by 2014.

Reducing the potential danger facing residents living near the airfield, which is located in a crowded residential area, has long been an issue in Japan.

While the United States has pressured the new Japanese government to implement the existing accord, expectations have been growing among people in Okinawa that the DPJ will seek to relocate the facility outside of the prefecture in line with its stance prior to the Aug. 30 House of Representatives election.

The risk of losing a tiny coalition partner, the SDP, if the government decides to accept the existing plan, has also apparently made it difficult for Hatoyama to quickly reach a decision on the issue.

Hatoyama is hoping to explain the government policy to U.S. President Barack Obama if and when they converse on the fringes of a meeting of state leaders Friday at the ongoing U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen, according to government sources.

Ties between Japan and the United States have been soured over the relocation issue, with the two countries recently suspending discussions at a high-level working group set up in November to discuss the matter.

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