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Japan Defense Minister in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2011-01-14

Japan's Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa is in Okinawa an effort to persuade the local community to accept the relocation of a key U.S. base there within the southernmost Japan prefecture based on a bilateral accord reached in May 2010.

The Defense Ministry says Toshimi Kitazawa will hold talks with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima today. "I intend to do my utmost to fully secure the understanding of the people of Okinawa," he told reporters before leaving Tokyo. "Now that I have been reappointed, I'm going to Okinawa before the regular Diet session begins. The Diet session is expected to open January 24th.

Kitazawa will be the first minister to visit the island prefecture since Prime Minister Naoto Kan reshuffled his cabinet on Friday. He'll be joined in visiting Okinawa later this month by Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, who says he'll also be trying to secure local consent for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation to northern Okinawa.

Both Japanese leaders are facing an uphill series of meetings, as Okinawans have become firmly entrenched opposing Futenma's remaining in the prefecture. Their visits are apparently aimed at demonstrating the central government's efforts to reduce Okinawa's burden of hosting U.S. military facilities. Kitazawa is expected to tell Nakaima that his ministry is considering moving part of the helicopter training at the Futenma base out of Okinawa, to reduce the risks posed by the facility, which is located in a densely populated area of Ginowan.

He is also expected to explain to the governor a plan to transfer some of the fighter jet training at the U.S. Kadena air base in Okinawa to Guam. Last week, Kitazawa and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed to step up discussions on the plan.

With Nakaima calling for a review of the Japan-U.S. agreement on the relocation of Futenma, Kitazawa's and Maehara's visits to Okinawa are unlikely to help break the deadlock in the situation. Informed sources say Kitazawa may visit the Futenma and Kadena bases after his talks with Nakaima.

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