CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Wednesday he hopes to have concrete plans this spring for the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa.
After a year of uncertainty, Japan is making a serious effort to resolve the political impasse over moving the air base from a populated area of Ginowan to a rural coastal area farther north, Gates said during defense budget testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
“My hope is that we will get resolution, particularly on the configuration of the airfield or the runways perhaps later this spring. And that would then allow us to go forward with our planning,” he said.
The relocation of the air base is a key component of an agreement made by the U.S. and Japan in 2006 to realign military forces in the region. But keeping the air base on Okinawa remains a point of contention among the Japanese public.
A new government in Tokyo vowed last year to revisit the relocation and review the two countries’ 50-year-old defense alliance.
That effort ended with the resignation of the newly elected prime minister and rejection of the new government at the ballot box by Japanese frustrated by a lack of results.
New Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his more conservative government have been meeting in recent months with Okinawa officials that oppose keeping the air base on the island.
Gates praised current work but warned that if Japan does not resolve the political issues surrounding the relocation, “troops don’t leave Okinawa; lands don’t get returned to the Japanese, to the Okinawans.”