Talks under way on base land return schedule

The Japanese government sources say that negotiators aim to conclude talks with the United States to establish a timeline for the return of land currently occupied by the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station, and other sites south of the Kadena Air Base, as early as by Friday.

If the negotiations can be concluded as planned, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to hold a press conference tomorrow to outline the agreement.

A government source says Japan intends to include the Futenma site return schedule in a broader plan, expected to be drawn up in early April, for the return of U.S. military sites in Okinawa.   Japan is also seeking to have the site for the Marines’ Camp Kinser in Urasoe, among the U.S. sites, returned in 10 to 15 years. Demand for the site’s return is particularly high among local communities.

The five sites on the first wave of land returns south of Kadena Air base are Camp Foster, the Makiminato Service Area, Camp Lester, part of Naha Military Port and Kuwae Tank Farm No. 2.  Japan and the U.S. agreed in 2006 to move Futenma from Ginowan City to the sparsely populated northern region by 2014, but that plan has hit massive opposition from local citizens who want the base moved from Okinawa.

By specifying schedules for the site return, the Japanese government intends to gain the consent of local residents on the long-stalled plan to relocate the Futenma base in Ginowan to Nago in the northern part of Okinawa. Local people are demanding the base be moved outside the prefecture.   However, the United States is seen reluctant to clarify when to return the U.S. military sites, including the Futenma base.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said last Friday that “Futenma will be included in the planned land return.  Before leaving for Mongolia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that the Japanese and U.S. governments “are energetically negotiating” to reach an agreement on the return of the U.S. sites in Okinawa, including specific schedules.   Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was to arrive in Okinawa yesterday to brief local leaders on progress in the negotiations, while either Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida or Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera is expected make the trip this weekend to explain the deal to the prefectural government.