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Several Japanese news reports say a plan to relocate Carrier Air Wing 5 operations from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni is a virtual certainty.

Even the mayors of cities hosting Iwakuni and Atsugi say they’ve been briefed on the move by Japan’s Defense Facilities Administration Bureau officials. But their reactions were mixed.

However, U.S. officials Friday remained tight-lipped about any such move, which could be a part of an interim report on a realignment of U.S. forces in Japan to be discussed this weekend in Washington.

“We’ll be able to flesh that out more Saturday,” said U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer in Tokyo. “That really is for the DPRI (Defense Policy Review Initiative) talks to resolve and I’d rather leave it to them to make that announcement.”

Schieffer’s comment came during a press briefing Friday announcing that the USS Kitty Hawk will be replaced with a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base in 2008. Carrier Air Wing 5 is the aviation component of the Kitty Hawk.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will meet their Japanese counterparts, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and defense chief Yoshinori Ohno, in Washington for the meeting on the realignment of forces.

Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara, however, issued a city news release announcing details of the Atsugi move following a Thursday briefing with Kenichi Sakamoto, director of the Hiroshima Defense Facilities Administration Bureau.

“There is no way we accept the plan,” Ihara stated in the release. “It is very regrettable that it was made without hearing what the local residents have to say about it.”

However, mayors of both Yamato and Ayase cities said their wish to relocate the air wing was realized. “We see that what we have been urging the U.S. and Japanese governments was understood,” Kimiyasu Tsuchiya was quoted as saying in a statement released Friday.

However, Ayase Mayor Seijiro Kasama said, “We cannot completely be pleased when thinking about the anger and concerns that the residents living near Iwakuni are feeling … considering the noise problems that the residents near Atsugi suffered.”

The cities’ news release stated that DFAB officials told the mayors that:

FA-18s, EA-6Bs and E2-Cs would be relocated to Iwakuni from Atsugi.17 Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force EP-3s, OP-3Cs, UP-3Ds and U-36As would be relocated from Iwakuni to Atsugi.Aircraft at Atsugi will decrease from 108 to 68; personnel, from 5,900 to 5,000.The carrier-based aircraft will be relocated four or five years after the new runway at Iwakuni is completed in fiscal 2008.KC-130s slated for relocation to Iwakuni from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa would operate from a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force base in Kagoshima Prefecture on Kyushu, if possible. However, locations of the planes’s headquarters and crews’ families will continue to be discussed, the release stated.Night landing practice would remain at Iwo Jima, with quieter planes training at Atsugi.A Defense Facilities Administration Agency spokesman declined to confirm details of the briefing.

However, the spokesman did confirm that agency officials are meeting with local officials to discuss issues that were to be under consideration at the Saturday’s meeting in Washington.

“We cannot discuss the specifics of the agreement,” the spokesman said, adding there has been no decision about when the agreement will be finalized.

“We will continue to explain [realignment issues] to the local communities and ask for their understanding and cooperation,” he said.

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