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Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima speaks to reporters Friday following a meeting with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Naha, Okinawa. Nakaima told reporters he was still in the dark about what the Japanese government is proposing in regard to the shift of Marine Corps units from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima speaks to reporters Friday following a meeting with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Naha, Okinawa. Nakaima told reporters he was still in the dark about what the Japanese government is proposing in regard to the shift of Marine Corps units from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. (Chiyomi Sumida / S&S)

NAHA, Okinawa — Japanese officials announced Friday that they have begun negotiations with U.S. and Okinawa officials on alternatives to the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma relocation project.

In Tokyo on Friday, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos following a meeting Thursday between Roos and Akihisa Nagashima, a vice minister of defense.

"Today, the Government of Japan shared its current thinking with regard to the Futenma issue, which we will carefully consider," the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said in a news release. "The United States and Japan will continue to work together as allies in a spirit of partnership as we move forward to resolve this issue."

No other details of the meeting were released, and Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told reporters after a meeting with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa in Naha that he was still in the dark concerning exactly what the government is proposing.

Kitazawa, during the open meeting, said Japan cannot accept the 2006 agreement to build a new air facility on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

"Our idea includes moving the operations to different sites," he said.

Nakaima, in turn, told the minister that his prefecture is united in wanting Marine Corps air operations moved outside of Okinawa.

"I do not believe this was the beginning of any negotiations," Nakaima told reporters after the meeting. "There was no mention of specific sites."

A leading alternative reported in Japanese media is to build a smaller, temporary facility on a landlocked portion of Camp Schwab while a new air base is constructed on reclaimed land between the U.S. Navy’s White Beach port and nearby Tsuken Island.

That construction project, rejected by the U.S. years ago, is expected to take 10 years, according to plans first presented by Okinawa businessmen in 1999. Plans now being considered by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reportedly include sharing the White Beach/Tsuken facility with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

"I have no details, so I cannot say whether I support or oppose it," Nakaima said.

The U.S. maintains the original 2006 agreement remains the best — and only — option for closing MCAS Futenma in Ginowan and moving air operations to a less developed area of the island.

Speaking Thursday before the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Robert F. Willard said he is optimistic that Japan will reaffirm the 2006 relocation plan.

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