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Defense minister’s Okinawa visit doesn’t sway anyone

Date Posted: 2012-07-07

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima on Sunday reiterated his strong opposition to the U.S. military's plan to deploy its MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station next month, making demands to Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto that thorough probes be made on the causes of a series of accidents involving the Osprey aircraft, including a crash in Morocco in April.

If the United States tries to introduce a military plane with safety concerns, "we would have no choice but to absolutely oppose the plan," Nakaima said during the Naha meetings. He handed to Morimoto a written request seeking a review to the deployment plan. After the meeting, Nakaima told reporters that if the United States says the Osprey is safe because it continues to use the aircraft, that will not be convincing at all. "If an Osprey crashes into a densely populated area, moves to demand an immediate shutdown of all U.S. bases in Okinawa could spread" among local residents, he said.

Later on Sunday, Morimoto, who visited the prefecture in an effort to win local understanding for the planned Osprey deployment, held a meeting with heads of Okinawa municipalities hosting U.S. military facilities. The local leaders also voiced opposition to the Osprey deployment at the Futenma base.

Ginowan City Mayor Atsushi Sakima, whose city hosts Futenma, called the planned assignment of tilt-rotor MV-22 Ospreys to the base “very regrettable and unacceptable.” The mayor hammered home the concerns about the “undeniable fact that Ospreys have crashed twice in as many months,” demanding the central government understand Okinawa residents’ concerns.”

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine did not attend the meeting. The Futenma base, now in Ginowan, is to be relocated to the Henoko coastal area of Nago under Japan-U.S. agreements on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

Following his visit to Okinawa, Morimoto moved to the western Japan prefecture of Yamaguchi and met with its governor, Sekinari Nii, and Yoshihiko Fukuda, mayor of the Yamaguchi city of Iwakuni, to seek their cooperation in the deployment plan. The U.S. side plans to transport the MV-22 Osprey to the U.S. military base in Iwakuni ahead of its deployment in Okinawa.

Fukuda said the Japanese government should call on the United States not to send the aircraft to the Iwakuni base until its safety is confirmed. The U.S. side plans to refrain from conducting flight tests of the Osprey in Japan until a certain conclusion is made in its investigations into the series of accidents.

Morimoto explained to the Okinawa leaders, and also to those in Yamaguchi Prefecture, that “I’ll try to achieve the relocations as early as possible, as agreed between the Japanese and U.S. governments.

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