Even though high-level talks over relocating a Marine Corps air station on Okinawa have been halted, Japanese and U.S. officials said Wednesday the two countries will continue to work to resolve the issue.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said during a Wednesday news conference that close and intense negotiations are needed to resolve the dispute over the location of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. Otherwise, he said, the delay could affect the entire timeline of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada announced Tuesday that talks over Futenma will be suspended until the Japanese government decides how and where it wants the air station moved. Since taking power in September, Japan’s center-left government has been reviewing a plan to move Futenma operations to Camp Schwab, part of a 2006 bilateral agreement.

To answer those on Okinawa opposed to the move within the island, the Democratic Party of Japan made a campaign pledge to move the military airfield outside Okinawa.

While Japan weighs alternative locations, the U.S. maintains its stance that it is best to implement the plan as agreed in the road map.

Despite the impasse, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, who is in charge of the project to build a replacement airfield and move 8,000 Marines to Guam from Okinawa, departed Tuesday on a two-day fact-finding visit to Guam.

“The purpose of my trip is to see the situation of the island as an individual who is responsible to put important resources of our country to Guam,” he said before leaving Tuesday. “We have already paid 30 billion yen (about $330 million) to the United States [for the Guam project], and if things move as planned in the road map, we need to earmark about 50 billion yen (about $550 million) for next fiscal year.”

Okada denied media reports that friction was mounting between the U.S. and Japanese governments.

“Presently, there is the Futenma issue as an imminent matter to be solved,” he said during a Tuesday news conference. “However, I, minister of foreign affairs, do not see that there are any pending issues or any difficult challenges that lie between the United States and Japan.”

On Wednesday, the U.S. agreed.

The U.S. “continues to engage with the government of Japan in direct discussions to maintain alliance capabilities while reducing the impact of our bases in local communities,” a spokesman for the U.S. Consulate General in Naha said.

But time is running out for the administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama to make a decision on the issue, an expert on U.S.-Japan relations said Wednesday.

“If the plan is implemented according to the road map, and in order to complete the move by 2014, the construction of the airfield must start next year,” said Masaaki Gabe, professor of international relations at the University of the Ryukyus. “If the decision is postponed, and the Japanese government fails to allocate the necessary budget for the project, the plan will stumble from its foundation.”

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