Tokyo governor: Yokota’s future deserves its own discussion
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara criticized the interim report recommending how to realign U.S. bases in Japan, claiming his request for shared military-civilian use of Yokota was “put off” and demanding it be addressed outside the transformation talks.
But a U.S. Embassy official in Tokyo argued it’s among numerous initiatives still being considered, with both sides committed to completing implementation schedules by March.
In a bilateral document Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and their Japanese counterparts released Saturday, the two nations agreed to “explore” giving Japan more control of Yokota’s airspace and study possible military-civilian use of the base — stipulating that any dual arrangement not compromise Air Force operations.
Nearby Haneda Airport’s planned 2009 expansion also would be taken into account.
The weekend accord also called for establishing a joint U.S.- Japanese operations center at Yokota and relocating the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Air Defense Command from Fuchu to the U.S. installation in western Tokyo.
Sunday, Ishihara suggested Tokyo’s appeal for commercial use of Yokota had been overlooked.
“It is truly regrettable that joint military-commercial use of the base … was put off and only the relocation of Japan Air Self-Defense Force Command, which means a joint U.S.-Japan military use of Yokota Air Base, was proposed,” he said in a prepared statement.
U.S. Forces Japan officials at Yokota declined to comment, deferring instead to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
Embassy spokesman Michael Boyle said Tuesday that Yokota’s dual use and airspace control were clearly highlighted in the report.
“That question has been included in conversations and discussions about realignment,” he said. “We’ll continue to look at those issues. I don’t think consideration of the issue has been delayed or put aside. It’s clear that the interim report does not end consideration of that particular issue.”
But Ishihara said joint military-commercial use of Yokota, which Tokyo considers necessary for its ultimate return to Japanese control, should be separated from all realignment talks to try to “speed up the process.”
“It is far from completely handing over the airspace control at Yokota,” he said. “Tokyo will continue to strongly urge the national government to realize complete handover of the Yokota airspace, so that Japan can control its own sky and secure safe and rational air traffic.”
Boyle said it’s among many topics under review in continuing efforts to restructure the U.S. military’s role in Japan.
The report covers issues “that have been dealt with in some detail and some that are clearly going to be dealt with as we continue,” he said. “It’s an interim report but it does give an overview of where we stand on a number of security issues.
“There are no final decisions but it’s a statement of intention to continue considering them. And Yokota Air Base and its airspace are among them.”