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Prime Minister to visit U.S. military sites on Okinawa

Date Posted: 2009-02-26

Japan’s Prime Minister is finalizing plans for his first visit to Okinawa, and the controversial Futenma Marine Corps Air Station and its proposed replacement site at Camp Schwab are high on his agenda.

Taro Aso will arrive in Okinawa March 7th to get a firsthand perspective of the issue that’s made the agreement signed two years ago between Japan and the United States such a hot button topic. The Prime Minister will meet with Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima for the second time in a month, again to listen to Nakaima’s pleas for a change in runway locations at the northern Okinawa site. Nakaima met February 16th with Aso in Tokyo.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to visit the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman City, and to see several sites where World War II ordnance exploded at construction projects. Aso has already agreed to commit money, a ¥1 billion fund, to Okinawa for cleaning up an estimated 2,500 tons of bombs, rockets and shells believed still buried across the island’s landscape. He will also meet with the LDP Women’s Union, then attend a meeting with the Okinawa’s Diet members.

The touchy part of the visit, though, centers on discussions of the replacement airfield designed for the Henoko District of Nago City, on Camp Schwab and in adjacent waters of Oura Bay. Okinawa’s governor continues to insist the two 1,600-meter V-shape runways be moved 80 meters farther offshore, a move both Japan and U.S. officials refuse to consider. Aso has gone on record tht “I can’t say anything yet” with regard to any potential reconsiderations to the agreement, which was reinforced last week by a renewed agreement signed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Japan’s Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone.

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