Abe seeks plans for fast return of Okinawa bases

Japan’s Prime Minister has directly asked U.S. President Barack Obama to push his government to expedite plans for returning five Okinawa base facilities and areas leased by the military, but he’s not yet gotten a positive signal it will happen.

Shinzo Abe explained “It would be easier for us to proceed with the relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station if you could bring forward” the plans for building the base.  The Prime Minister made the appeal during a Washington visit, telling the President the prefecture would more likely support the new base if he’d have some solid numbers to talk about on when bases would be returned.

Facilities and areas south of Kadena Air Base would be returned to Japan as soon as replacement air facilities are available in Okinawa, or if the Marines are moved out of Japan.  Plans for the relocation were to have been drafted by the end of last year, but work stalled and ran slower than both Japanese and American officials had planned, in part because of the budget crisis that threatened Defense Department cutbacks.

Following his meetings with Obama, Abe said they “agreed that with regard to the realignment of U.S. Forces in Japan, we will move forward at an early time with the relocation of Futenma, and plans for returning the selected areas south of Kadena.  The April 2012 agreement by Japanese and American foreign and defense ministers reiterated Camp Zukeran and the Makiminato Service Area are to be returned immediately upon ”completion of necessary procedures.”

The balance of the two facilities, as well as three other areas, will be returned once replacement facilities are provided in Okinawa, or as U.S. Marines redeploy from Okinawa to locations elsewhere outside Japan. Parts of Camp Foster, Naha Port and Kuwae Tank Farm No.1 are the other facilities selected for the first round of base returns.