Contents of a Japanese proposal for joint use of Yokota Air Base’s runway were supposed to be kept under wraps.

But details continue to slip out.

Or do they?

At a recent news conference in Tokyo, the city’s governor, Shintaro Ishihara, said the United States would like to see an international airport at Yokota if the runway is jointly used.

“The U.S. has asked it to be internationalized,” Ishihara said.

But Col. Victor Warzinski, a U.S. Forces Japan spokesman, denied that Tuesday: “That’s not true. There’s been no request to internationalize the base.”

Warzinski wouldn’t speculate on Ishihara’s motives for making the statement. For years, the governor has vowed to return Yokota to Japanese control, calling on both governments to allow joint military-civilian use of the base as a transitional measure.

Commercial use of the 11,000-foot airstrip — one of the longest in Japan — is on the table, following President Bush’s consent last May to study the issue with Japan. A committee of Japanese government officials is working on a joint-use proposal that it plans to submit to the U.S. government for consideration.

A Tokyo metropolitan official told Stars and Stripes last month that Ishihara has not been involved in the meetings and that committee members were not to discuss proposal details just yet.

But Ishihara continues to speak out on the issue. He said under joint use, Japan would conduct 15-16 flights a day in the beginning and that a number of airlines are interested in using Yokota as a commercial airport.

An international terminal at Yokota, however, could pose problems, the governor said. He wonders whether it would be OK, for instance, to allow countries like China, which the United States checks militarily, to fly in and out of the base.

No word yet on when Japan will submit its proposal to U.S. officials. Warzinski said as far as he knows, no document has been forthcoming.

In the meantime, the Hudson Institute is researching the viability of allowing civilian flights at the base, which sits about 28 miles west of Tokyo. The U.S. think tank will produce a report for the Department of Defense and the White House by July.

The issue has already generated much discussion on Japan Today’s Web site — Comments from readers include:

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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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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