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Japan misses deadline for selecting alternative Futenma proposal

GINOWAN, Okinawa — Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama says it’s “not a big deal” that he failed to meet his own deadline for selecting a new plan to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Hatoyama told reporters Tuesday night in Tokyo he was not ready to make public the alternate sites his government is considering. He had set a deadline of Wednesday to come up with an alternate site to begin the discussions between Okinawa and U.S. officials. He also pledged to reach an agreement on a replacement plan by the end of May.

“It is not time yet to tell you what the ideas are,” Hatoyama said, according to a transcript of the news conference. “Missing the target by a day or two is not a big deal. What is important is to come up with a solid and acceptable proposal.”

There was no indication when his party might make the ideas public.

Hatoyama’s left-center government swept into power in August, defeating the conservative government that signed an agreement with the U.S. in May 2006 to replace Futenma, located in crowded Ginowan, with a new air station on Camp Schwab in the more rural northeast.

The base is planned for the Henoko peninsula and reclaimed land in Oura Bay. During the election campaign, Hatoyama said the project should be reviewed.

In recent weeks, Japanese officials have stated the 2006 plan should be scrapped. Unofficially, some have indicated the leading alternative is to construct a large heliport on a landlocked portion of Camp Schwab and move some Marine air units to mainland Japan while a new air station is constructed on reclaimed land off the U.S. Navy’s White Beach port, on Okinawa’s eastern shore, and a nearby island.

Okinawa officials oppose any relocation of the Marine air units on Okinawa.

On Wednesday, Yasuhiro Arakaki, director-general of the Okinawa chapter of Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan, supported Hatoyama’s decision to put off his decision.

“It is an extremely difficult issue and, although he set his own deadline as the end of March, realistically it is very difficult to come to a decision under the present circumstances,” he said.

“All the ideas we are hearing from media reports are by no means acceptable for the people of Okinawa,” he said. “In that sense, I want him to continue his effort so that things might move in a better direction for Okinawa.”

Yonekichi Shinzato, secretary-general of the minority Social Democratic Party’s Okinawa chapter, said that keeping the deadline would be meaningless.

“What’s important is not when but what the prime minister comes up with,” he said. “All the plans I have heard through media reports are ridiculous.

“The Katsuren (White Beach) idea is insane,” he said. “By damaging the natural environment, by killing rich marine farming ground, they want to build a permanent military base?”

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Canada earlier this week during the Group of Eight foreign ministers’ meeting and discussed the Futenma issue. They did not discuss the alternatives being considered, Hatoyama told reporters.

“[He] told Secretary Clinton that he understands that the U.S. government regards the present plan as the best option,” Hatoyama said. “He then conveyed to her the present environment surrounding the plan, informing her that it would be difficult to pursue. 

“The important thing is to reach a settlement which is acceptable by all parties concerned by the end of May,” he said.

Clinton told Okada that the 2006 plan was preferable, but the U.S. is ready to consider possible options.

“We are committed to the defense of Japan,” Clinton told reporters Tuesday. “We are going to continue to listen to and consult with the Japanese government.”


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