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Lack of clear Futenma move solutions frustrating everyone

Date Posted: 2005-10-22

The relocation of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to a site outside Ginowan is becoming more confusing with each passing week.

The American government, which thought it had at least an agreement in principal with the host country Japan to move the controversial airbase to a site just offshore at Henoko, near Camp Schwab. The Japanese government had agreed a week ago, but now appears to be waffling.

Okinawa’s governor, Keiichi Inamine, had been supporting Futenma’s move north to the edge of the jungle, but is now backing off. “Futenma Air Station should transfer outside Okinawa,” Inamine said this week in an about face. “Futenma should not be at Schwab, and not on the shoals and not on the seacoast. Just outside Okinawa.”

The Japanese government had argued for the new 1,500 meters long airstrip and accompanying facilities to be built at Camp Schwab, next to the coast. That idea has been floated by the former Director General of the Defense Agency, Fukushiro Kaga. In a personal visit with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Kaga appealed for the Japanese leader’s support for the coastal option.

Prime Minister Koizumi told Kaga “we are now discussing things with together with the Americans. The most important thing is to be of the same mind within our government inside Japan. We must,” Koizumi emphasized, “not be of different opinions.”

A Pentagon official visiting Japan this week was more frank. “If Futenma’s transfer problem will not clear,” he said, “America is not going to think about returning a part of the base at Kadena, the southern military port, or on reducing the number of Marine Corps troops here.”

With the flip flops, everything is at a standstill. A week ago it appeared construction could begin soon, with only agreements between local governments and leaders still to be accomplished. Now, with the Japanese government reversing course, and the Okinawa governor switching positions, all is unsure. “This is never a good situation,” said the senior Pentagon official. “Japan has to do something quickly, and not just discuss things. We need action, please.”

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