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Obama administration standing by realignment plan

Date Posted: 2009-02-04

Any thoughts the new administration of U.S. president Barack Obama would change plans for moving Marines from Okinawa and relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station were dashed over the weekend as Japans Foreign Minister paid his first official visit to the prefecture.

Hirofumi Nakasone toured Camp Schwab, site of the proposed airfield to replace Futenma, met with U.S. military leaders including Lt. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of American forces on the island, and then sat down with Hirokazu Nakaima. In a disappointing exchange with Okinawa’s governor, the foreign minister told Nakaima there will be no changes to the planned construction of the new airfield at Henoko, and that the relocation of 8,000 U.S. Marines and their families to Guam will go on as scheduled.

The Foreign Minister, speaking with media in Naha City at the end of his one-day Okinawa visit, confirmed Japan will continue “as is” with plans to move the Marines, and that Japan will pay its agreed upon price for the measure. The 2006 U.S. ~ Japan Realignment Agreement committed $6 billion by Japan toward the total cost of building new facilities in Guam to accommodate the Marines departing Okinawa. Nakasone said he’s discussed the issues in conversations with Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s Secretary of State, and they agreed everything will continue on the track agreed to nearly two years ago.

An unhappy Governor Nakaima continued to press the Foreign Minister for Okinawa’s desired changes. Nakaima has long agreed with the basic premise of the new airfield in northern Okinawa, but doesn’t like the exact location of its planned two V-shaped 1,600-meter runways. The governor wants them moved further offshore both as safety measures and to reduce noise problems for local residents. The Foreign Minister told him “carrying out this realignment will reduce Okinawa’s burden, and I believe it must be accomplished at any cost.”

The 2006 agreement calls for the airfield at Camp Schwab be completed by 2014.

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