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Webb hopes for progress on Futenma

Date Posted: 2012-04-13

U.S. Senator Jim Webb is expressing hope that the contentious relocation of the Futenma air base will move forward now that Japan and the United States have agreed to delink the issue from the transfer of thousands of marines to Guam.

The relocation has been blocked by local opposition, with many Okinawa residents, who refer to Futenma as the most dangerous base in the world, trying to get the facility removed from the prefecture. Japan and the U.S. have been engaged in talks over reviewing a 2006 bilateral agreement to transfer 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam in exchange for relocating Futenma from Ginowan to Henoko in the northern part of the island. In early February, the two governments simultaneously announced that they would "delink" the two to push the base move forward.

Speaking in Tokyo, Webb, a former Marine, stressed that it is important to resolve the issue in a "timely way. I have supported delinking the Futenma issue from the other negotiations because I believe that can allow the negotiations to move forward to see exactly what should go from Okinawa to Guam," Webb said. "But at the same time, I think it is important for us to resolve the Futenma issue in a timely way."

Webb, together with fellow senators Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, proposed a year ago that Futenma should be consolidated with Kadena Air Base. The idea, while brought up often, has never gained traction, with both the Marines and the Air Force opposing it.. Japan has also turned thumbs down on the idea because Okinawans complain the consolidated base would increase noise pollution.

Webb noted that the newest proposal from the senators is more than a simple base consolidation, noting it would require Kadena to disperse some of its operations to other Pacific theater bases. Still, hes urging both Japan, Okinawa and the U.S. military to seriously consider it. Webb met with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima while visiting Okinawa, and discussed the future. Webb also met with Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka, during the Tokyo leg of his trip, learning firsthand that Tanaka continues to stress that the original plan to move Futenma to Henoko remains unchanged.

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