Armitage eyes conditional time limit on heliport

Kyodo

A former senior U.S. defense official Friday proposed that a time limit be conditionally set on the U.S. military’s use of a planned airport in Okinawa to break the impasse over the relocation of a U.S. military facility.

In an interview with Kyodo News, Richard Armitage, an adviser to Republican presidential hopeful George W. Bush, said he “would push the idea” to Bush should the latter win this year’s U.S. presidential election and grant Armitage a defense-related position in his administration.

Armitage was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under the administration of former President George Bush, George W. Bush’s father.

Armitage said the U.S. and Japanese governments would set a 15-year time limit on the U.S. Marine Corps’ use of the airport, to be built in Nago, northern Okinawa, for relocation of the helicopter operations at Futenma Air Station in central Okinawa.

After 10 years, both governments would review the international situation to decide whether to end the use of the airport five years later, Armitage said.

“At the 10-year point, we could make a more clear decision on whether or not at 15 years the facility should stop or start to draw down or whatever,” he said.

The relocation of the Futenma base has been deadlocked with Washington opposing the Okinawa Prefectural Government’s demand for the 15-year time limit.

In late December, the Japanese government approved a plan to build the airport in Nago. The plan envisages building an airport for joint commercial and military use in Nago’s Henoko district.

But the local governments of Okinawa and Nago set the time-limit demand as a condition for accepting the new airport. The Japanese central government has been noncommittal about the demand.

Washington has opposed setting the time limit, citing possible changes in the international security environment.

Armitage said, “Having an arbitrary time limit is not necessarily a good thing because none of us know the future.”

So setting a time limit conditionally “seems to be a proper way to resolve the issue,” he said. “It’s a compromise proposal.”

The proposal would allow officials from the Okinawa prefectural government to take part in the review as observers, he said.

Armitage said he has mentioned the proposal to officials of the administration of President Bill Clinton.

“They listened,” he said. But the Clinton administration would be unlikely to accept the proposal, Armitage said. “It’s not preferable because it ties our hands.”

Armitage said he also suggested the idea to Japanese officials, but only in an informal manner.