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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. and Japanese officials plan to meet in Washington, D.C., next month to start hashing out details for a plan to realign U.S. troops in Japan.

“We plan to hold a ministerial level meeting in Washington in January,” said Moriyuki Shikata, U.S. Status of Forces Agreement Division director with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The January session will be “just one of many we plan to hold before March,” the deadline for finalizing the plan, he said.

“Intensified meetings are expected with the U.S. side through March,” he added. “At that same time, we need to synchronize coordination with local communities.”

He said exact dates for the next meeting have yet to be released. “But we will meet frequently before finalizing the realignment report, in order to map out a plan for each item recommended in the interim report released on Oct. 29,” he said. “Among the topics will be flight paths for (Camp) Schwab and (MCAS) Iwakuni.”

A major part of the interim report was a plan to move Marine helicopter operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new facility to be built on Camp Schwab, in a more remote area of Okinawa near the village of Henoko. Refueling aircraft would be moved to MCAS Iwakuni.

“There are concerns among residents at Henoko that aircraft might fly over their homes,” Shikata said. “However, the flight routes have yet to be determined. We need to finalize them so that the government of Japan will be able to explain them to residents.”

He said another important part of the plan is the possible move of some F-15 fighter training from Kadena Air Base to mainland air bases. “We need to see that from two aspects,” he said: To increase the ability to cooperate between U.S. and Japan Air Self-Defense forces and “to reduce noise by dispersing the training.”

For the first meeting in January, Japan will be represented by Kazuyoshi Umemoto, counselor for North American Affairs Bureau of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chisato Yamauchi, deputy director of Defense Bureau of Self-Defense Agency, Shikata said.

The U.S. representatives’ names were unavailable Wednesday.

The realignment plan has been a hard sell on Okinawa. Officials here say that while they support the proposed move of some 7,000 Okinawa-based Marines to Guam and mainland Japan, they vehemently oppose the Camp Schwab heliport plan and the possibility of opening Kadena Air Base to joint use with the JASDF.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have stressed that reducing Marine troop strength - and closing several bases in southern Okinawa - hinge on moving Marine air operations to Camp Schwab.

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