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Futenma relocation site stymies negotiators’ efforts

Date Posted: 2005-10-28

The more the two governments talk, the more it appears an agreement on where to put Futenma is slipping away.

The two governments will meet Saturday in Washington in hopes of settling a wide range of troop issues that extend beyond the Okinawa boundaries, but right now it doesn’t appear a Futenma solution will be part of any pact. Japan’s Foreign Minister, Nobutaka Machimura, will meet with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice during vice ministerial talks.

Machimura is already seething over what he calls an American plan to “go around” the Japanese government with its version of a Futenma relocation deal. He’s charged the U.S. with lobbying directly to Okinawa local and prefectural officials instead of dealing with the Japanese government. He’s told a government committee he is not pleased with the actions.

The U.S. is expected to stand firm on its idea for a new 1,500 meter runway and airfield that juts out into the Henoko Bay near Nago. The Japanese government wants a land-based airfield instead of one that would reach into waters rich in coral. The Japanese plan would place the runway at Camp Hansen where military dormitories now stand, requiring construction of new troop facilities.

Both the U.S. and Japan have revisited the northern Okinawa area, reevaluating their plans and comparing them to the other side’s concepts. Neither appears willing to budge. The U.S. says the Japanese plan is unsafe, because it would require aviators to fly over populated areas instead of out over open waters.

The original Henoko plan was developed years ago, calling for a joint civilian-military airport with a 2,500 meters long runway. The plan stemmed from a 1996 agreement to move Futenma, and expectations were that the airport would be operational around 2015. That goal has been shot down by economic, political and environmental opposition.

The Japanese Defense Minister, Yoshinori Ohno, says the disparities are enough to force cancellation of the Oct. 29th talks.

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