This story has been corrected
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A top member of Japan’s ruling party privately asked local leaders here on Tuesday to support the relocation of the Futenma air station to Kadena Air Base, according to those who participated in the meetings.
But mayors of two towns near Kadena said they rejected the proposal by Hajime Ishii, a senior member of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan who traveled to the island to sound out the municipal governments on shifting Marine helicopters and other aircraft to the Air Force base.
With support from the U.S. Senate, the idea has been gaining steam over the past year, and Ishii’s visit came as U.S. and Japanese diplomats met again in Tokyo in another attempt to come to an agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces on Okinawa.
Okinawa City Mayor Mitsuko Tomon said she met with Ishii for about one hour and told him that residents would never accept new Marine Corps air traffic at Kadena after enduring decades of noise from the Air Force.
“I was told that it is a plan to move the Futenma operations to military bases in multiple locations throughout Japan, and Kadena is one of them,” she said.
Ishii did not give further details of the proposal or say what other U.S. bases may be affected, but Ishii told her that information would be made clear in the “not-so-distant future,” according to Tomon.
During a press conference Tuesday evening in Naha, Ishii said he is proposing to move Futenma to another U.S. military base temporarily, possibly one on Okinawa, until a permanent location somewhere else in Japan can be found. The lawmaker would not confirm that Kadena is being considered.
He said he is planning to make a formal proposal to Noda for the relocation of Futenma before the end of the month.
The U.S. Senate already has mandated that the U.S. military conduct an independent study this year that specifically considers moving the Marine Corps flight operations at Futenma to Kadena Air Base as an alternative to current realignment plans, which call for building an off-shore airfield near the city of Nago.
The U.S. and Japan want to redeploy about 8,000 Marines off Okinawa and close some bases here, including Futenma. But public opposition to the Nago plan has held up progress for years and prompted the two countries to begin renegotiating plans for U.S. forces in February.
Under the Kadena plan, Marine Corps flight operations would be relocated to the air base, and some Air Force units would be shifted to other bases in the region. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who traveled to Japan earlier this month to push for a breakthrough in the realignment, has said the Kadena proposal could result in decrease in military air traffic on the island.
On Monday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met again with Japanese delegates at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo for the newest round of negotiations.
“It’s still a work in progress, we’re still comparing perspectives, but we’ve made a lot of progress over the course of discussions yesterday and today, and I’m very confident that we will be able to come to an agreement on the way forward between the United States and Japan on issues associated with force realignment,” Campbell said Monday, according to a transcript released by the State Department.
The meeting comes in advance of a planned trip to the U.S. by Noda later this month. Both countries have indicated his trip may coincide with developments in a new security agreement.
This story originally referred to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's party as the Liberal Democratic Party instead of the Democratic Party of Japan.