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Hatoyama headed to Okinawa to resume base closure talks

GINOWAN, Okinawa — Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is scheduled to return Sunday to Okinawa to resume discussions with prefectural officials concerning his plan for the closure of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and relocation of its units.

It will be the second visit to the island this month by Hatoyama, who is trying to sell a plan to move the Marine air units to a new facility to be built on Camp Schwab.

After eight months of reviewing a 2006 agreement to realign U.S. troops in Japan, which includes closing Futenma in Ginowan and moving the Marines to Okinawa’s rural northeast coast, Hatoyama has abandoned a promise he made to voters last summer to move the Marines outside Okinawa.

Now Hatoyama reportedly is pushing for a modification of the 2006 plan, building a smaller airstrip on Camp Schwab and moving some training outside the prefecture.

It’s proving a tough sell. The two junior parties in his ruling coalition are opposed to the plan, and Okinawa officials across the political spectrum have denounced any move to keep the Marines on the island.

U.S. officials contend that the original 2006 plan remains the best option for closing the base.

Hatoyama’s itinerary for Sunday’s meeting is not complete, but Japanese news media report that he plans to talk with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and possibly host a lunch with Okinawan mayors in Nago, where Camp Schwab is located.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Tokyo for talks Friday with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.

Okada told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo that the government’s Futenma relocation plan is not ready for such a high-level talk. According to NHK television, Okada said he will merely explain Japan’s current posture.

Working level talks between lower level officials were scheduled for Thursday in Tokyo, and Japan’s Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa is expected to visit Washington, D.C., next week to discuss the Futenma issue with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, according to Kyodo News.

allend@pstripes.osd.mil

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