YOMITAN, Okinawa — While U.S. officials are eager for Japan to accept a 2006 agreement to move Marine Corps air operations on Okinawa, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama indicated late Friday that his country is still studying the agreement and possible options.
Hatoyama told reporters in Tokyo that the government must be careful in its review of the 2006 Roadmap to Realignment, and it could be a while before it formulates its own policy on the issue.
After a closed-door session with the heads of the two junior parties of the ruling coalition, Hatoyama said it "would be easy if we could just say, ‘Let’s move on with the plan.’"
"But we’re not there yet," he said, according to a transcript of the briefing. "It is obvious we are not in such a situation. As the new government of Japan, we are in the middle of searching for a way — while giving consideration to the feelings of the people of Okinawa — to find a course that is acceptable to the United States."
Hatoyama said he would announce his policy on the Futenma relocation "in the not too distant future," adding that "we need some time before we can win understanding from the United States."
The U.S. and Japan signed an agreement in May 2006 to realign U.S. forces throughout Japan, particularly on Okinawa, which is host to 75 percent of U.S. base land in Japan and almost half the 47,000 troops here.
The agreement calls for moving Marine air operations to a new air station to be built in rural northeast Okinawa, on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay. Once that is completed, the U.S. would close Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and several other bases in urban southern Okinawa and transfer more than 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam, by the end of 2014.
But Hatoyama’s center-left Democratic Party of Japan has called for a review of the Camp Schwab plan. Prior to being swept into power in August, the party called for moving Futenma operations to somewhere other than Okinawa, if not outside Japan.
The U.S. contends the Futenma Relocation plan is the only viable option, that it’s the key to the entire realignment agreement and that failure to move forward could leave Futenma open indefinitely.
Meanwhile, an Okinawan member of Japan’s House of Representatives said he was told by U.S. officials in Washington that the U.S. is becoming impatient.
In Washington on Friday, according to reports in several Japanese newspapers, Mikio Shimoji, an Okinawan member of the Diet and the chief policymaker for the New People’s Party, a junior member of the ruling coalition, said he met with Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, concerning the Futenma issue.
He said Campbell warned that if Japan does not decide on the Futenma Relocation plan soon, funds allocated for construction on Guam for the transfer of the Marines might be redirected to other projects, according to Kyodo News.
Shimoji, an opponent of the Camp Schwab project, responded that "things are not that easy," the news agency reported.
An aide traveling with Shimoji told reporters that Campbell appeared to "sweeten the deal" concerning Camp Schwab by offering to move some Marine helicopter training to Camp Fuji, near Tokyo.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.