Talks to realign troops in Japan stall over Futenma move
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Bilateral talks concerning the realignment of U.S. troops in Japan are stuck on what to do with Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, U.S. and Japanese officials said after talks in Washington last week.
Compromises to a plan already approved by Okinawa prefecture are unacceptable, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine said Saturday.
In attempts to break a logjam that has stalled a plan to relocate the Marine air station to a facility to be built off Okinawa’s northeast shore, U.S. and Japanese officials have been considering scaling back the size of the offshore airport or building it within nearby Camp Schwab, according to Japanese news reports.
That’s unacceptable to Inamine, who approved the construction of an airport on 455 acres of reclaimed land on a reef about two miles offshore of Henoko, a small fishing village. What had sealed that $2.87 billion deal was an agreement to Inamine’s insistence that the airport be used jointly by civilian aircraft.
A scaled-back version of the project, with a shorter runway, would eliminate civilian use of the facility. “If it is not the original plan, the facility must be relocated out of the prefecture,” Inamine said Saturday in a meeting with five ruling Liberal Democratic Party Diet members from Okinawa. “My stance will not swing.”
In 1996, the bilateral Special Action Committee on Okinawa agreed to reduce the land occupied by U.S. bases on Okinawa by 21 percent. Key to the plan was closing MCAS Futenma in urban Ginowan and moving Marine air operations to a less-developed location within the prefecture.
The move, however, has been plagued with delays. Most recently, opposition to the Henoko project by a small group of conservationists and anti-base activists has interrupted work on an environmental survey of the area and construction has yet to begin.
In Tokyo, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nobutaka Machimura told reporters that talks in Washington last week failed to reach an agreement on the relocation project.
“I do not know if it would be appropriate to call the gap considerable, but there is a difference of opinion,” Machimura said after a Cabinet meeting Friday in Tokyo, according to a transcript provided by MOFA.
Yoshinori Ohno, director general of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that it now may be difficult to reach an interim agreement on realignment by the end of the month, as earlier expected.
In Washington, Richard Lawless, deputy undersecretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs, told reporters that the deadlock needed to be broken by mid-November, so an interim report could be written before President Bush’s scheduled visit to Japan.
“We have asked for more information, but at the present time the opportunity that we’re being offered by the Japanese government is not acceptable, so the discussions are continuing,” Lawless told reporters Thursday.
He said U.S. officials believed the offshore plan was “a quality replacement that allows us to sustain the presence of the alliance.”
“That is why we are saying to the Japanese governments — you undertook this obligation in 1996 to replace Futenma, we’ve been waiting,” Lawless said, adding that the delay “is not our fault.”
“We want you (Japan) to help us replace Futenma for the benefit of the alliance because the alliance needs this capability,” he said. “We can’t have an agreement on the major principles (of realigning U.S. forces) without resolving the Futenma issue.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.