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Noda to explain U.S. military realignment

Date Posted: 2012-02-17

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda says he will visit Okinawa Prefecture soon to explain to local residents about a review of the U.S. military realignment program in Japan, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

‘We have to negotiate with the United States so that the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma air station will not remain where it is,’ Noda told a House of Representatives Budget Committee meeting. ‘I hope to have an opportunity at an early time to explain to the people of Okinawa about such intentions and prospects.’ Noda made the remarks in connection with a basic policy for the realignment review Japan and the United States.

Noda is likely to visit Okinawa Prefecture as early as next weekend, around February 25th, to meet with Governor Hirokazu Nakaima. It will be Noda's first visit to the nation's southernmost prefecture since he took office last September. Noda has said he plans to seek understanding and support from the governor on the planned Futenma relocation. Given mounting local concerns that the agreement will leave the Futenma base as it is, Noda has voiced a willingness to talk to the people of Okinawa about the plan as soon as possible.

Noda is also expected to apologize to the governor about the poor handling of the issue by the government led by his Democratic Party of Japan. Yukio Hatoyama, one of Noda's predecessors, once pledged to move the Futenma base outside Okinawa. Noda is considering visiting Futenma Marine Corps Air Station during his stay. Noda’s schedule is far from firm, as people familiar with the Prime Minister’s calendar say the visit may be pushed back to March.

The basic policy features a plan to move U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam ahead of the controversial Futenma relocation plan Okinawa, raising concern among local residents that the relocation of the Futenma base may never happen. The two plans were packaged under a 2006 bilateral deal. Noda has again underscored his commitment to the existing plan to relocate Futenma from a congested area of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago City and Camp Schwab. The Japanese and U.S. governments believe the Futenma relocation plan is ‘the only feasible plan’ and upcoming bilateral negotiations will be based on this assessment, the prime minister said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba stopped short of addressing how the 2006 road map for the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan would change following the review. ‘Basic constituent elements of the road map remain intact,” Genba says, “but some modifications are expected to be made following coordination.”

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