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Kan to avoid Futenma issue in U.S. visit

Date Posted: 2011-01-07

Japan's Prime Minister can expect at least a cool reception in Washington this spring as he meets with U.S. President Barack Obama, because he's no closer now to resolving the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation issue than he was six months ago.

Naoto Kan publicly insists his government will honor the Japan-U.S. Agreement made in 2006, and reaffirmed by then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama last May, assuring America the airbase will move from Ginowan City in central Okinawa to an isolated location on a U.S. Marine Corps base, Camp Schwab, in northern Okinawa. Kan has backed off earlier hopes and plans of making a public statement acknowledging the agreement during his American visit, but hasn't been able to obtain commitments from any of the Okinawa leaders necessary to make it happen.

Okinawa's Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, says the base move won't happen in Okinawa, telling Kan to move it to another prefecture. Kan's told Okinawa it has to remain here, standing fast on the agreement despite having apologized to the Okinawan people for the burdens they are bearing. "We cannot set a deadline" Kan said last month referring to coming up with an Okinawa agreement to make the Futenma relocation move forward smoothly. The Prime Minister figures to spend a few months working with Nakaima and other Okinawa leaders to appease them and gain their ultimate support.

Kan is taking it slow because he doesn't want to anger Okinawans, but is facing heavy pressure from Washington to end the stalemate and get things moving. Washington wanted the agreement to be highly publicized during the meetings between Japan and President Obama, but that's not likely to happen. Japan's government is signaling now there will be no agreement with Okinawa Prefecture before the visit to America, and that the Futenma relocation will not be included in any statements by the Prime Minister and the President.
Japan had been hoping for a comprehensive document inked by the Japanese and American leaders, with emphasis on bilateral issues involving security, the economy, and human and cultural exchanges.

Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has visited Okinawa, and is in the United States now to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the upcoming trip. He'll be talking with Clinton about the joint statement, but a Foreign Ministry spokesman says "almost nothing has been decided yet."

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