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U.S. may budge on runways, if asked

Date Posted: 2009-10-22

The contentious issue of moving a pair of V-shape runways farther offshore into Oura Bay, the proposed site of the new airfield in northern Okinawa to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in downtown Ginowan City may be seeing a slight tremor movement.

After several years of refusing to discuss any changes to the U.S.-Japan Agreement of May 2006, there appears to be a thaw in the American frigid position against any change. A U.S. defense official, speaking under the veil of anonymity, has now said America will consider moving the airfield runways further offshore, but only if Japan makes a formal move of asking for the change. The official’s statement, which also contained concerns that the mutual trust between the two nations could be shattered if the military realignment is not moved forward, spoke specifically of the Futenma issue.

The U.S. official’s signal was the first time ever that Washington has even hinted at making any changes to the airfield design. Okinawa’s governor has long said he would be amicable to the airfield at Camp Schwab in the Henoko District of Nago City, but only if the runways were moved further into the bay. Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has been calling for a runway shift for several years.

Nakaima has gone public with his decision to support the airfield construction, a move that puts the opposition politician–governor at odds with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who wants to move Futenma outside Okinawa Prefecture. Nakaima has given his environmental assessment statement to the central government in Tokyo. “The coalition government has said it will review the planned U,.S. forces realignment, but concrete steps and a timeline have not been indicated yet,” says Nakaima. “Under these circumstances, the significance of carrying out the ongoing environmental assessment process could be questioned, and we want the central government to clarify its policy and present specific proposals at an early date.”

Hatoyama this week suggested Futenma was not a priority on his administration’s calendar, saying decisions on the airfield move could wait until next summer. Nakaima has in the past agreed that moving Futenma outside Okinawa Prefecture, or even Japan, was “the best choice” but says the local Okinawa government “has to accept the transfer within the prefecture to remove the danger caused by the Futenma facility as soon as possible.”

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