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U.S. rejects Camp Schwab as Futenma replacement site

Date Posted: 2005-10-06

New rounds of talks between Japanese and American defense leaders have pushed American negotiators into firm declarations that Camp Schwab is not an appropriate site for the proposed new military airfield.

The two sides have been dealing for months, looking for an expedited solution to replace the oftentimes controversial Futenma Marine Corps Station in Ginowan. The talks narrowed the concepts to two, one somewhat following original design plans for a runway stretching into the waters off Henoko, and the second a land based airfield on the present U.S. Marines base at nearby Camp Schwab. The Americans are insisting ‘no way’ but have agreed to additional talks.

Both sides want to break the impass now muddling political and economic waters on Okinawa, where the demands for closing Futenma are more vocal. The crash of a Marine Corps helicopter outside Futenma, onto the Okinawa International Unviersity campus in Ginowan, has spurred additional fears of future crashes.

The original Henoko plan developed in 1999 has become mired in environmental, economic and political brouha, and the 10-14 years required to make it a reality once past the verbal wrangling, make it seemingly untenable. Senior defense leaders, including Japan’s Defense Agency Chief General Yoshinori Ono, say they’re dismayed at not reaching agreement.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda is more optimistic, refusing to call the American decision a talks failure, noting the negotiations are continuing this week. The Washington-based talks stalled a bit after the U.S. refused to consider the land-based option. “I don’t know if it’s appropriate to say there was a considerable gap,” said Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura several days ago, “but there is a difference of opinion.”

Both countries agree an expedited solution is needed on Futenma, and scaled back original plans for a joint civilian-military airfield in the north to only a military airstrip, and reduced the runway length to 1,500 meters. The smaller project could slash five or more years off construction time.

The U.S. position is that the inland option adds risk to Okinawa citizens, noting it would require helicopters to fly over small communities. Officials stressed this is the same problem as now found with Futenma. They also say there’s little expectation local and community leaders will agree to support the plan.

Talks are continuing as part of an overall defense realignment plan for Asia and Japan. Officials from both Japan and the U.S. say they hope to hammer out an agreement by the end of this month.

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