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Key Democratic heavyweight backs Futenma relocation plan

Date Posted: 2011-05-30

An influential U.S. senator is voicing his support for the planned creation of a new U.S. military airfield in northern Okinawa to replace the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station despised by local citizens and politicians.

Senator Daniel Inouye, meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, called the Japan-U.S. agreement to move the controversial air base to northern Okinawa a desirable move. Sticking with the existing concept of shifting Futenma to Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago City makes sense, Inouye said.

The Hawaii senator rebuffed a proposal made nearly two weeks ago by three U.S. Senate colleagues who called for integrating Futenma into operations at Kadena Air Base, also in central Okinawa. Inouye pointed out the idea had been surfaced before and found unworkable, and says any change from the current plan is not in the bilateral agreement. Sens. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, John McCain, R-Arizona, and James Webb, D-Virginia, have taken the position a Kadena-Futenma merger makes sense and should be pursued immediately.

Analysts say now that Inouye’s weighing in on the deal, and tossing his support to the existing plan, will likely dilute support for the Futenma-Kadena integration. Inouye is meeting with Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to clarify his stance. Meanwhile, Maehara, a member of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, held talks with Daniel Russel, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council. Russel told Maehara that there is no change in the U.S. government’s stance.

Maehara also met with Levin and Webb. Levin says he hopes the U.S. administration will respond positively to the Kadena-Futenma integration in order to break the impasse on the relocation issue. Futenma’s been a hot-button issue that’s remained unresolved for more than a decade, and the three U.S. senators want a positive response.

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