Friday, February 19, 2010

U.S. senator open to suggestions from Japan on military base issue

U.S. senator open to suggestions from Japan on military base issue

Feb 15 06:19 AM US/Eastern

(AP) - TOKYO, Feb. 15 (Kyodo) — Visiting U.S. Sen. Jim Webb said Monday he is "open to listening to all the suggestions" from the Japanese government on the issue of where to relocate a U.S. military airfield in the southernmost Japanese prefecture of Okinawa.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs also said there could be "a number of practical options" on the issue, but noted he has no intention to recommend that the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station be relocated outside of Okinawa.

"There are ways that the American military could be readjusted, but they also have to be able to perform their mission," Webb, who spent time on Okinawa as a U.S. Marine during the Vietnam War and revisited the island in the 1970s as a defense planner, said at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.

Following a historic change of government in September, the new Japanese government and the ruling parties are exploring an alternative to an existing plan agreed on between Tokyo and Washington in 2006 to move the Futemma facility in Ginowan to a less densely populated city in Okinawa.

The two junior coalition partners in the Democratic Party of Japan-led government are set to present their relocation proposals Wednesday to a government committee that is considering the issue, which are likely to include Guam or an idea to integrate the Futemma functions with the nearby U.S. Kadena Air Base in Okinawa.

But prospects remain unclear on whether the proposals would lead the Japanese government to settle the issue by the end of May as it has pledged, given that both ideas have been floated in the past but have been seen as difficult to realize.

Webb did not elaborate on what he called "practical options," but added, "I do believe that we must find a solution on the Futemma issue for the well-being of the citizens in that area."

"And I am open to listening to all the suggestions from the Japanese government and also from the people of Okinawa," he said, while noting that the base issue should be resolved in a way that both Japan and the United States "feel comfortable."

The United States has pressed Japan to implement the existing relocation plan on the grounds that it is the only viable option. The Futemma relocation is part of a broader 2006 bilateral agreement on the reconfiguration of U.S. forces in Japan, which took years to reach.

Separately, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada told Webb in a meeting at the Foreign Ministry that the Japanese government would like to hold discussions with the U.S. government on the Futemma issue before reaching a conclusion in May, according to the ministry's press release.

Webb was quoted as telling Okada that the Japan-U.S. ties are strong enough to overcome specific problems and that he believes the conclusion on the issue, no matter what it may be, would be desirable for both countries, it said.

During his visit to Japan, Webb also plans to go to Okinawa. He will also visit Guam, where the transfer of about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa is planned under the 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement.

Touching on the issue of massive Toyota vehicle recalls, Webb said at the Japan National Press Club that it is a "business issue" and would not affect the bilateral ties from a political viewpoint.

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