Mayor will ask Japanese government to cancel Iwakuni plan
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Following the nonbinding referendum Sunday in which Iwakuni city voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to bring more aircraft to nearby Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, the city’s mayor, Katsusuke Ihara, said Monday he would ask the government of Japan to cancel the plan.
The U.S. and Japanese governments still are negotiating a plan for realignment of U.S. forces in Japan that would move Carrier Air Wing 5 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to MCAS Iwakuni. On Sunday, 43,433 Iwakuni residents voted against the move, while only 5,369 voted for it, according to city officials. The move would bring nearly 60 more aircraft and 1,600 troops to the base.
“Both Japanese and U.S. governments said that understanding and support from local communities are important for stable operations of military bases in Japan,” Ihara said. “To pay respect to the outcome of the referendum, I will deliver the outcome to the central government as a consensus of the local community.”
Asked about the referendum, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Monday that it would not affect the bilateral talks that are expected to finalize the realignment plan in the next few weeks.
“If a referendum is held anywhere, residents would oppose military bases. There is the difficult part of security issues,” Koizumi was quoted by a Cabinet office spokesman as saying. “There will be no change.”
Koizumi said he would continue his effort to obtain the understanding of the affected communities.
MCAS Iwakuni officials said Sunday’s vote was the local people’s right.
“The decision is between the U.S. government and the government of Japan, and whatever they decide, we’ll continue to march,” said Master Sgt. Lesli Coakley, public affairs chief. “We’re servicemembers, not policymakers.”