US senator open to options on Japan base dispute
By MALCOLM FOSTER
(AP) – 35 minutes ago
TOKYO — A member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee said Monday he's open to hearing options on how to resolve a dispute over the relocation of a contentious U.S. Marine base on the Japanese island of Okinawa.
Starting a weeklong tour in Japan and Guam, Sen. Jim Webb also called Toyota's recent recall problems — the subject of two congressional hearings next week — a "business issue" that wouldn't affect political ties between Japan and the United States.
U.S.-Japan relations soured after the new Tokyo government put on hold a plan to move Futenma Marine airfield on the southern island of Okinawa — part of a broader 2006 agreement with Washington to reorganize the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan — because of local opposition.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who swept into power last August, has said he plans to make a decision on Futenma by May.
Webb, who has made numerous visits to Okinawa over the last 40 years, first as a Marine during the Vietnam War and later as a U.S. defense planner and government official, said the main purpose of his visit was to listen to the views of the Japanese government and people of Okinawa, where many resent the heavy U.S. military presence.
"There could be a number of practical options," Webb said about ways to resolve the Futenma issue. "I don't want to outline those options today because I don't want to cut short the discussions that we're going to have."
Webb said a solution needed to be found quickly "on the Futenma issue for the well-being of the citizens in that area."
"I am open to listening to all suggestions from the Japanese government and also the people of Okinawa," he told journalists at a press conference.
The Obama administration has insisted the Hatoyama government proceed with the 2006 plan to move Futenma to Nago, a city in a less crowded part of Okinawa that recently elected an anti-base mayor.
Webb said he did not recommend moving Futema's facilities outside of Okinawa, as many local residents want, but he also suggested he didn't necessarily support the Obama's administration's position.
"We're not a parliamentary system, so I am not obligated to support the administration in a specific way," he said.