TOKYO — Unresolved tensions with North Korea and other regional concerns may mean that joint commercial-military use of Yokota Air Base’s runway isn’t necessarily the best option, Hudson Institute researchers said during a news conference Wednesday.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, an outspoken critic of the U.S. military’s presence in Japan, long has fought for an arrangement in which the airport could serve both purposes.

But Kenneth Wienstein, vice president and chief operating officer of the think tank, said joint military use probably would be more realistic.

“The best option for now, we believe, may be dual use between the United States Air Force and the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force,” he said.

With Japan’s military focus shifting away from Russia, the study suggests the next logical step for Japan’s Defense Agency is to move its SDF bases south from Hokkaido, where 42 percent of its installations are located. Space is limited for new facilities, so it may be in the SDF’s interest to consolidate its forces on U.S. bases.

Wienstein also said the U.S. government should consider returning part of its airspace in Tokyo.

Japanese commercial airline officials say they lose time and money when forced to fly around the U.S.-controlled airspace over Tokyo. They also point to safety concerns with congested flight paths.

“Relinquishing part of Yokota’s airspace would quiet some of the sentiment against a U.S. air base being in Tokyo at all,” the study stated.

Hudson officials will submit their research to Japanese and U.S. officials.

“We do appreciate Hudson Institute for doing the study. However, until the two governments complete the study on the feasibility of dual use of the runway, it’s premature to comment on the potential use of the runway,” said Air Force Capt. Richelle Dowdell, a U.S. Forces Japan spokeswoman.

Daisaku Niimi, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s planning coordination section director, who received the study Wednesday night, declined to comment on its specifics, saying only, “We are in the midst of analyzing the contents of the study.”

The Hudson Institute conducted the study at the request of the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese philanthropic organization, after President Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed last spring to address the feasibility of Yokota’s dual use. The Nippon Foundation focuses on areas such as overseas cooperation assistance, maritime development, domestic social welfare and domestic volunteer support.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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