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NAHA, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima says he now is ready to resume talks with Tokyo on the stalled plan to build a new Marine air station on Camp Schwab.

But his willingness to compromise may come too late, since Japan’s new defense minister said last week the current plan already has been approved and needs to proceed as rapidly as possible.

Last week Sanae Takaichi, the central government’s minister in charge of Okinawa affairs, said she and Nakaima have agreed that Tokyo and local Okinawa governments should resume talks on the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

She targeted the new talks to begin in late August or September.

Moving Marine air operations from crowded urban central Okinawa to the island’s rural northeast coast is a key part of the May 2006 bilateral agreement to realign U.S. forces in Japan. Once the air station is moved, the realignment plan calls for about 8,000 Marines and their families to move to Guam.

The talks between Okinawa officials and the central government stopped when Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who supports the concept, requested the location of the project’s runways be modified.

Another barrier to the plan is opposition from some other Okinawa municipalities. According to the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, Kadena, Chatan, Okinawa city and Ginowan are opposed to portions of the realignment plan.

The prefectural government is split on the realignment plan, accepting the Camp Schwab project and closing bases south of Kadena Air Base, but opposing the planned joint use of Camp Hansen with Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, the installation of the U.S. Army’s Patriot missile batteries on Kadena Air Base and joint use of Kadena Air Base with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force.

The DFAA has stated Tokyo wants every affected prefectural and local government to agree to all aspects of the realignment plan before proceeding.

However, that position may have changed with the recent appointment of Yuriko Koike as defense minister. Koike, a former minister in charge of Okinawa affairs, says plans to move Marine air operations to Camp Schwab should stand.

“If we start making modification (to the plan), it will have a bearing on time,” she said at her inaugural press conference in Tokyo last week. “It has already been reaffirmed between Japan and the United States that we will steadily implement the realignment plan, so we will seek the local people’s understanding while listening to their opinions.”

She said it was important to move forward on the Okinawa plan without hesitation, especially since it has been more than 10 years since the U.S. and Japan first agreed to close MCAS Futenma.

Akira Uehara, director general of the Okinawa governor’s executive office, said that he expects the realignment to speed up under the new defense minister, but he added the prefectural government still is demanding that the planned runways be moved further offshore.


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