Talks On Moving Futenma Base Still Not Concluded

Talks On Moving Futenma Base Still Not Concluded
March 22nd, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Talks On Moving Futenma Base Still Not Concluded

Talks On Moving Futenma Base Still Not Concluded
Japan Times
March 22, 2008 By Kakumi Kobayashi and Masato Kurosaki, Kyodo
NAHA, Okinawa Pref.--While Guam steps up preparations to host marines when their presence in Okinawa is downsized, possibly by 2014, tough negotiations are continuing between the prefecture and central government on the planned relocation base that must be operational before the move takes place.
At issue in the discussions is the placement of runways to be built at the relocation site in Nago for the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in line with a 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement on the reorganization of the U.S. military in Japan.
The Futenma base relocation is symbolic of the overall reorganization and its success hinges greatly on whether the new air station can be completed smoothly. The downsizing and transfer to Guam will not only include Futenma marines but those at several other bases.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said central government officials and Okinawa leaders are trying to hold the next session of a joint panel on the Futenma issue in early April in a bid to make progress. But there is no guarantee the talks will lead to a breakthrough in the current impasse.
The Defense Ministry is conducting an environmental impact assessment this month at the site of the new facility.
Government officials have told their U.S. counterparts that the completion of the environmental survey could be delayed for up to eight months beyond its initial target of this July.
"We understand the fate of the ongoing negotiations with the central government over the Futenma base will affect Guam's preparations to host marines from Okinawa," a senior prefectural official said.
Under the 2006 agreement, the United States will downsize its Okinawa marine presence, currently numbering some 18,000, by 8,000, as well as their dependents, who currently number around 9,000. This contingent will relocate to Guam. Most of the 8,000 are likely to be from command elements. Frontline weapons and troops will remain in Okinawa.
The land currently used for the Futenma base will be returned to Japan after the relocation airstrip is operational.
The alternative airfield is planned to be built straddling a small cape off the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima has urged the central government to slightly move the envisioned two runways, having a V-shaped pattern, farther out on the cape away from populated areas, citing safety and noise concerns of local residents.
Machimura, who heads the panel on the Futenma relocation, recently showed signs that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's administration may meet Okinawa's request, but the U.S. is not budging from the position that the bilateral accord should be implemented without change.
U.S. Consul General to Okinawa Kevin Maher spurned the idea of redesigning the new airfield.
"Plans to relocate the Futenma base have already changed many times. But none of them has been implemented. We are not in the time for renegotiation. There is no reason to move" the runways under the May 2006 accord, Maher said.
"It is an agreement between governments. What if a governmental agreement changed every time different politicians came? That would not be the right thing to do," Maher said.
Nakaima, who took office in November 2006, and Okinawa government officials have sought a compromise by the central government, saying Okinawa is ready to push the relocation plan itself and only requests a small change to it.
"This project would make speedy headway if the government listens to what Okinawa Prefecture says," said Yoshihiro Hosaka, deputy director general of Nakaima's executive office in charge of military base affairs.
Japanese security analyst Kensuke Ebata said the U.S. could increase pressure on Japan to speed up the delay-prone process toward settling the Futenma issue.
"The United States had been initially reluctant about the relocation of marines to Guam from Okinawa. But now, the United States is aware of the strategic importance of Guam," said Ebata, visiting professor at Takushoku University's Institute of World Studies.
The size of the military buildup on Guam is "the largest ever" for the westernmost U.S. territory, Ebata said, noting the deployment of strategic bombers to Andersen Air Force Base on a regular basis and nuclear-powered submarines in the naval base of Apra.
The U.S. has even sounded out Japan and South Korea as well as Southeast Asian nations about a joint operation of unmanned spy planes to be deployed on Guam, Ebata said.
Japan and the U.S. initially came up with a plan in 1996 to relocate the Futenma base within up to seven years of a 1995 incident in which two marines and a sailor abducted and gang-raped a schoolgirl in Okinawa.
But the relocation plan has been long delayed by opposition from some in the local community, citing security and environmental concerns.

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