Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Defense chief negative on Futemma relocation to Tinian

Defense chief negative on Futemma relocation to Tinian

Feb 12 12:36 AM US/Eastern

TOKYO, Feb. 12 (AP) - (Kyodo) — Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Friday downplayed the idea of relocating a U.S. Marine airfield in Okinawa, Japan's southernmost prefecture, to Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth.

"As Prime Minister (Yukio Hatoyama) strongly intends to solve the (relocation) issue by May, it is really difficult," Kitazawa told a press conference on the possibility of considering Tinian as a candidate site for the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station.

On Wednesday, Tinian Mayor Ramon M. Dela Cruz told Kyodo News that Tinian can accept the Marine units.

The commonwealth governor, Benigno Fitial, also told a group of Japanese ruling coalition lawmakers who visited Saipan on Wednesday that the Northern Marianas is willing to host the full functions of the Futemma base as it will "invite the economic benefit" in terms of employment and land rent.

Kitazawa said, however, the views of the U.S. military on the relocation issue are important and that discussions are expected to take place on whether the necessary deterrence can be maintained in the Asia-Pacific region if all the Marine functions in Okinawa are transferred to Tinian.

"Such discussions will likely drag on, making it difficult for us (to reach the final decision) in May," the minister said. He added that Futemma's relocation to the Northern Mariana Islands could be considered as a "long-term issue."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, who leads a government task force on the matter, also expressed little enthusiasm for the idea of relocating Futemma to the area, saying that the task force has never discussed it before.

"I am not aware of the idea as it came up so suddenly," the top government spokesman said at a separate press conference.

Hatoyama has said that Japan will reach a final conclusion by the end of May on where it wants to see the Futemma facility relocated, and a government committee has been exploring possible candidate sites.

Washington maintains that a plan agreed upon by Japan and the United States in 2006 to move the Futemma base to a less densely populated part of Okinawa is the best option.

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