Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hirano says gov't could take legal step to settle U.S. base issue

Hirano says gov't could take legal step to settle U.S. base issue

Jan 26 09:57 AM US/Eastern

(AP) - TOKYO, Jan. 26 (Kyodo) — Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano indicated Tuesday that the government could resort to legal action to settle the issue of where to move a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa if it could not secure consent from the local government that has jurisdiction over a relocation site.

Hirano also said the government does not necessarily have to obtain a local government's consent in reaching a conclusion on where to move the Futemma Air Station by the self-imposed end-of-May deadline.

The remarks could provoke a sharp reaction from local governments in the southernmost prefecture because they could be taken to mean that the central government may proceed to build U.S. military facilities without the consent of local governments.

"There could be a case in which it (the base relocation) could be legally implemented," the top government spokesman said at a news conference. "There are various scenarios."

During a separate news conference, he also indicated a hope that there will be a way to "move things forward without an agreement."

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama later dismissed the possibility of seeking legal action to settle the issue, telling reporters, "Although I don't know what the chief Cabinet secretary meant by the remark, I will seek acceptance (of the government's decision) without adopting a high-handed manner."

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada also hastened to clarify Hirano's remarks, telling a news conference, "It would be wrong if they were taken to mean that we (the government) would proceed by ignoring local views or without listening to local views at all."

Hirano has already drawn fire from coalition partners in Hatoyama's government for saying that there is "no reason why we have to take that (the election result) into account" in considering where to relocate the Futemma base in Ginowan.

His recent remarks are certain to provoke misgivings from the Social Democratic Party, one such partner, which seeks to move Futemma outside of Okinawa or abroad, and from local governments in the prefecture, complicating his job as chairman of a government panel aimed at exploring an alternative to the existing plan.

The panel, which also considers the existing plan as an option, draws its members from lawmakers in the ministries concerned and the policy chiefs of the SDP and the People's New Party, the other coalition partner in the Democratic Party of Japan-led government.

Meanwhile, Hatoyama expressed his willingness to meet with Susumu Inamine, who won Sunday's mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa, advocating opposition to Futemma's planned relocation to his less densely populated city under an existing deal between Japan and the United States.

"I want to meet with people when I can, whether they are mayors or governors," the prime minister told reporters in the evening.

Inamine criticized Hirano's remark, telling Kyodo News, "I don't understand his intention when he said he doesn't take it (Inamine's victory) into account." "The election result is the popular will and should be respected," the mayor-elect added.

Within the ruling bloc, a group of lawmakers from Okinawa decided Tuesday to call on the government in protest to give up the existing relocation plan.

Kantoku Teruya, an SDP lawmaker in the House of Representatives from Okinawa, said Hirano's remarks lacked common sense, calling the current government the same as the previous one led by the Liberal Democratic Party for its tendency to ignore local people's wishes.

Earlier in the day, Hirano reiterated that the government will not exclude from consideration the existing relocation plan just because a candidate opposed to it won Sunday's local election.

"I have said the introduction of a new mayor and his remarks are one manifestation of the popular will," Hirano said at a news conference. But "that does not mean we should perceive it entirely the popular will on the base issue, which is part of national security," he said.

"It's not that I take the popular will lightly, but in my view the mayoral election was not fought only on that one (issue)," the top government spokesman added.

Hirano pledged that the government will reach a conclusion on Futemma's relocation site, while at the same time seeking understanding from local governments. "To proceed while obtaining understanding from local governments is the precondition," he said.

Tokyo is reviewing the existing relocation plan to draw a conclusion on the issue by the end of May, while the United States has pressed Japan to proceed with the plan on the grounds that it is the only viable option.

Inamine, who will assume the mayoral post on Feb. 8, said Monday he will seek passage of a resolution opposing Futemma's relocation to his city. In the closely watched election, the 64-year-old beat incumbent Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who had expressed his willingness to accept the relocation.

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