GINOWAN, Okinawa — Japan officials are seeking to modify a plan to build a new Marine air facility on Camp Schwab, according to Japanese media.
During working-level talks in Washington last week on plans to close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and move the air units to a new facility in northeast Okinawa, Japanese negotiators proposed constructing just one 1,800-meter runway instead of the two V-shaped runways called for in the original 2006 agreement, according to Japanese media accounts citing unnamed sources.
During the two-day meeting they also proposed moving the runway offshore instead of stretching from the lower part of Camp Schwab onto reclaimed land in pristine Oura Bay, the media reports stated.
U.S. and Japanese officials declined to comment on details of the negotiations, which are to resume in Tokyo later this month. The two sides agreed in June to settle on specifics in August.
But that might be delayed, Japan’s Minister of Defense, Toshimi Kitazawa, told reporters in Tokyo Friday. He said the August deadline might be too soon for nailing down specifics, since getting cooperation from Okinawa officials – and the public – could be difficult.
Opposition on Okinawa to the new air facility grew over the past year in response to former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s promise to relocate the Marine air units outside the island prefecture. When he resigned in June after admitting defeat in settling on an alternative plan, the islanders felt betrayed.
“We need to obtain the understanding of the people of Okinawa,” Kitazawa told reporters in Tokyo, according to a transcript.
“Proceeding with the talks one-sidedly between the governments is not necessarily appropriate,” he said. “On Okinawa, elections for Nago City Council and governor are coming soon. I would like to continue the talks while watching the move of such factors as well.”
Nago is where Camp Schwab is located and voters there elected a mayor in January who is opposed to the construction plans. The city council is up for election in September and anti-base candidates are expected to win.
That election will be followed in November by the race for Okinawa governor, where the Futenma issue is expected to be a major factor.
In Washington, officials are taking a wait-and-see posture on the issue.
“We’re earnestly working through the technical details of the basing arrangement,” State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley told reporters Friday.
He said August remained the target date for agreeing on construction details. “But as to whether we’ll work through all the details, I can’t say at this point.”
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.