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US asks Japan for $300M to fix controversial base on Okinawa

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 5, 2012

The United States wants Japan to pay about $312 million to repair Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on Okinawa over the next eight years despite plans to close the base, the Asahi newspaper reported Thursday.

The proposal was made recently by U.S. officials as part of ongoing talks to renegotiate a landmark 2006 agreement to realign Marine Corps forces in Japan. The work would include routine maintenance on barracks and to the front gate, as well as upgrades to the air station’s flight line in the latter part of the project, according to the newspaper.

The possibility of repairs has only deepened Okinawan concerns that the unpopular base could become a permanent fixture on the island as efforts to close it have stalled. Earlier this year, the U.S. and Japan set aside plans to relocate Futenma farther north while the two allies hammer out a new agreement on redeploying Okinawa Marines to other areas in the region.

The air station had been slated to close by 2014 when Marines were to be shifted to the U.S. territory of Guam, but the Okinawan people have staunchly opposed keeping Marine Corps flight operations on the island and have stonewalled the relocation.

Japan’s foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, said last month that Futenma is deteriorating and will become unusable and dangerous if repairs are not made. That same message was repeated by Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka, who said the country is willing for now to foot the bill for necessary maintenance on the 50-year-old base.

However, Japan is expected to ask the United States to scale back its repair requests and costs, Asahi reported.

“If Japan accepts the full amount, it means that Japan agrees for Futenma to stay there at least for the next eight years,” a senior official with the Ministry of Defense told the newspaper.

Japanese lawmakers warned that the repairs could signal a longer stay for the controversial air station. “It makes no sense to close the air station right after upgrading the runway,” according to a ruling party Diet member quoted by Asahi.

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