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Japan Defense Minister to seek new governor's help over Osprey

Date Posted: 2012-08-01

Japan's Defense Minister is embarked on a new mission this week, talking of better relations with the new governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture, starting with some help on the U.S. Marines’ new MV-22 Osprey aircraft.

Satoshi Morimoto expressed hopes he can meet Shigetaro Yamamoto soon to seek his cooperation for the moving forward operations of the controversial Osprey transport aircraft. Shortly after Yamamoto won Sunday's gubernatorial election, Morimoto told reporters: "Discontent and worries about the Osprey remain regardless of the election outcome. I hope to meet the new governor soon if possible."

The first squadron of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft arrived at the U.S. Marine Corps' Iwakuni base in Yamaguchi Prefecture, western Japan, last week, for assembly and testing before being deployed to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station here in Okinawa later this year. The delivery and planned deployment have faced local strong opposition following a series of crashes involving Osprey aircraft. Yamamoto has shown opposition to Osprey flights in Japan unless concerns about the safety of the aircraft are dispelled.

At a news conference late last week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said that once the outcome of U.S. probes into recent Osprey accidents is obtained, a Defense Ministry investigation team, with the help of experts, will lead government efforts to conduct Japan's own analysis of the results. Fujimura says the government will then thoroughly explain the findings to local governments.

In a nutshell, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to continue facing a tough road in obtaining local understanding over the. MV-22 Osprey military aircraft. The Democratic Party of Japan-led government was relieved to see former land ministry bureaucrat Shigetaro Yamamoto win the election although he was supported by the major opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito. A source close to the Prime Minister says if Tetsunari Iida, the head of a nonprofit organization, had won the race, the management of the government would have become unpredictable. In his election campaign, Iida, who was virtually the sole contender of Yamamoto, strongly called for the removal of the 12 Osprey.

Yamamoto is also cautious about the tilt-rotor transport aircraft, and after winning the election, told reporters Sunday night that he will oppose the start of Osprey flights unless concerns about the safety of the aircraft are dispelled. The government plans to seek understanding for the launch of test flights of the Ospreys from local communities in Yamaguchi after confirming their safety in a U.S. investigation report that would be compiled in late August following a series of crashes involving the aircraft.

At Friday's meeting of senior foreign and defense officials of the two countries, the Japanese side explained that strong opposition exists to the planned Osprey deployment at the Marine air base in Okinawa. After the meeting, the U.S. Department of Defense said that Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto will visit the United States on Aug. 3. The department also said that the Marines will verify the Osprey's operational capability during Morimoto's visit, and the two governments are arranging an opportunity for Morimoto to get on board an Osprey.

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