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Kadena being considered as Futenma replacement

Date Posted: 2004-09-03

Controversy over the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation has often brought the suggestion that the troops and planes be shifted to nearby Kadena Air Base.

When that idea surfaces, both military officials and local Okinawan leaders reject it.

Now, the top U.S. military commander in Japan admits that Tokyo and Washington are discussing the idea. Lt. Gen. Thomas Waskow told the Japan National Press Club last week it’s under discussion at the highest levels. Speaking only a few days after the crash of a CH-53D helicopter close to Futenma, the comments suggest the plan may be gaining impetus.

Observers regard the comments as an indication the U.S. wants quick action on Futenma return. Another meeting between the two governments is scheduled tomorrow in Washington, where high level defense and foreign ministry officials will gather. Informed sources say it’s possible the rules on U.S. facilities and bases ownership could be modified during the talks.

There was a possibility that a revision of change of ownership of U.S. facilities, as outlined in reports from the Japan-U.S. Special Action Committee (SACO) would be brought up at the meeting, sources said.

Waskow says he thought talks had been ongoing over the Futenma-to-Kadena relocation, and added that consultations between Tokyo and Washington had not been one-sided. He called the process “an interactive one between the two governments”. The decision to move Futenma was made nearly five years ago, with the Japanese government agreeing to build a new airbase near Nago, in the northern part of Okinawa.

That project has stalled, largely due to environmental issues that have surfaced.

In December 1999, the Japanese government decided in a Cabinet meeting to relocate Futenma Air Station to a facility to be built off the coast of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, and from April this year, an environmental assessment has been carried out in the area.

The director general of the Foreign Ministry's North American Affairs Bureau, Shin Ebihara, is expected to participate in tomorrow’s Washington meeting. He remains firm that Japan honor the agreement of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa’s decision on moving the base to Nago. Elsewhere in his government, though, there have been moves to close Futenma Air Station quickly, even before the new facility is built.

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