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USFJ general says ‘no’ to renegotiating new airfield location

Date Posted: 2008-06-26

The top US military commander in Japan says “Camp Schwab is fit for the Futenma relocation” and has ruled out any renegotiations on the planned site.

Lt. Gen. Edward A. Rice, Jr., says “Camp Schwab is the best place, a very suitable place, and I’m expecting the transfer to proceed in the way agreed between the American and Japanese governments.” Rice, commanding general of U.S. Forces Japan, made the comments during his first Okinawa visit, where he surveyed the future airfield site at Henoko, in Nago City. “I needed to see the relocation site with my own eyes to understand how important the relocation plan is,” Rice said. “That was one of my major purposes for visiting Okinawa.”

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has been calling for new negotiations on the airfield location, wanting it moved to a location further offshore. Rice says “the agreement (between Japan and the U.S.) is not with a local government; it is with the Japanese government,” adding “We’ve agreed on the appropriate location and we want to maintain this agreement as a package.” Nakaima wants the V-shaped runways to be moved 80 meters farther away from land, into Oura Bay.

Rice says Futenma Marine Corps Air Station will stay, for now. While assuring officials the U.S. military works to remove or reduce dangers, “It will be impossible to close the air station.” Instead, the three-star general says “just make the new facility ready to transfer quickly. When the replacement facility is built and when we’re ready to relocate the base, it will be operational and the danger (in Ginowan City) will disappear too.”

The aircraft now at Futenma must stay, says Rice. “Okinawa is the best location for strategic considerations; Okinawa provides for faster action than any other place,” he says, noting “American military needs to be here; it is very important for both our countries’ security, and for America and Japan relationships.”

Rice also addressed complaints about early morning takeoffs by jet fighters from Kadena Air Base. “We’re making efforts to reduce the impact,” he said, but added “in terms of frequency, there are now fewer takeoffs. I know that each flight impacts on local residents.”

He also said relocating Okinawa-based aircraft to another location, such as Guam, is not feasible. “You may think we simply can go to another place, but actually, it’s more complicated.” In the case of Guam, he pointed out, “it depends on what kind of aircraft are already there.”

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