Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Japan to decide soon on relocation plan for Marine Corps air base

Japan to decide soon on relocation plan for Marine Corps air base

Updated at 11:59 a.m., Monday, December 7, 2009
Yomiuri Shimbun

TOKYO — Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Monday said he would shortly convey to Washington his government's position on the issue of relocating the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture.

"It's about time the government finalized its stance on the relocation issue and relayed that information to the United States," Hatoyama said at the prime minister's official residence.

It is not known, however, what decision he will reach. Hatoyama has taken a cautious stance over the current plan — agreed upon by Japan and the United States after years of negotiations — to transfer the Futenma base in Ginowan to waters near the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab in Henoko, Nago, in the same prefecture.

The prime minister also has expressed his intention to delay a decision on the matter until next year. However, if Hatoyama informs Washington that this stance is the government's finalized position on how to deal with the matter, it most likely would widen the chasm with the United States, which has insisted that the current relocation plan be implemented, according to observers.

Hatoyama said he had discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada when they met Sunday at his official residence.

Referring to the government's position on the current relocation plan, the prime minister said, "I acknowledge the United States' request that we carry out the plan, but it's not an easy issue that can be resolved quickly in view of the difficulties we face as a coalition government and the expectations of local people in Okinawa."

Hatoyama's remarks underlined the importance he places on weighing the opinions of the Social Democratic Party — one of his Democratic Party of Japan's two minor coalition partners — and the residents of Okinawa Prefecture. Both the SDP and the residents have been calling for the Futenma base to be relocated outside the prefecture or Japan.

Okada, meanwhile, met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos on Monday afternoon at his office, where they reportedly discussed the relocation issue.

During his meeting with Hatoyama on Sunday, Okada reportedly called on the prime minister to finalize the government's stance on the matter at an early date, while also reporting to him that the U.S. position remains unchanged.

In an effort to prevent the United States' sense of distrust from mounting, Hatoyama apparently has deemed it advisable to take a definite stance on the matter and convey this position to Washington before the end of this year, according to political analysts.

Given the fact that Hatoyama has referred to the difficulty of executing the current plan, it is thought he will reiterate this point when he conveys his stance on the issue to Washington.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano echoed the prime minister's intention to decide on a definite position over the Futenma issue at an early date.

"The time has come for the government to finalize its stance on how to resolve the issue and to convey this to both the United States and the people of Okinawa Prefecture," Hirano said.

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