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Japan rejects Dec. 18th Futenma Deadline

Date Posted: 2009-12-17

The U.S. government told Japan to resolve its internal issues and make a decision on how to deal with Futenma Marine Corps Air Station by tomorrow, but Japan’s Prime Minister put politics ahead of the Japan-U.S. alliance and says it may take until next May to get a decision.

Mikio Shimoji, a member of the House of Representatives from Okinawa first passed the word to the ruling coalition in Tokyo of America’s desires. Shimoji’s been visiting Washington, and says he’s been told Washington is willing to consider moving some military training programs now on Okinawa to another prefecture if Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will accept the terms of the 2006 bilateral agreement between Japan and the United States that called for moving Futenma from Ginowan City to sparsely populated Henoko area of northern Okinawa.

Hatoyama countered with a decision to not make a decision until next year after studying the political effects of local Japanese elections, including elections for mayor of Nago City, at the heart of the Futenma relocation debate. Hatoyama has announced, though, his government will set aside money in the 2010 budget to cover ‘Futenma-Henoko relocation expenses. “We have agreed that the three parties (of the ruling coalition) will consider how to reduce the burden of the Futenma facility,” says Social Democratic Party lawmaker Tomoko Abe, who attended the meeting.

The Prime Minister says he’ll tell Washington that Japan will stick by its policies once they’re decided. The Henoko deal is part of the realignment plan that would move 8,000 Marines and another 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam. Hatoyama is reportedly considering sending his Foreign Minister to Washington in the near future, hoping to explain his rationale to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Shimoji, who is the policy leader for the People’s News Party, the Kokumin Shinto, one of the three parties in the ruling coalition, has met with three senior U.S. officials, who’ve set December 18th as the deadline for the Japanese government to spell out what it wants to do. Shimoji has met with Kevin Maher, Director of the State Department’s Office of Japanese Affairs, as well as with Assistant Secretary of State for east Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, and Joseph Donovan, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. Maher was the State Department’s Consul General in Okinawa prior to assuming the Washington post.

The Okinawa lawmaker has been in Washington all week, talking and listening to American officials, who he says are becoming tired of waiting for answers. He says U.S. officials are warning that Congress will not authorize funding for relocating 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam unless Tokyo gets on board with the U.S.-Japan Agreement signed in May 2006. Shimoji’s aide says U.S. officials are willing to agree to moving some military operations from Okinawa to Shizuoka Prefecture to reduce the burden to Okinawa, but only if the Japanese government agrees to moving Futenma.

The Congressional indications that there’ll be no funding of a Guam initiative for Fiscal Year 2011 if a decision on Futenma is not made shortly have caught Prime Minister Hatoyama’s attention. He’s aware the U.S. Congress has already approved some funding for the Guam move in the current fiscal year budget, and is expecting action. There are conflicting signals coming from Tokyo, with some indicating Hatoyama will move forward in a positive manner, while others say he wants to completely rewrite the bilateral agreement with Washington.

Shimoji says he’s tried explaining to the American officials it “is not easy” for the Democratic Party of Japan, his party or the Social Democratic Party to agree to the Henoko plan, since they all oppose the agreement.

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