U.S. wants to resolve Yokota Air Base issue

The United States has proposed reaching a conclusion with Japan by the end of next year on whether civilian aircraft should be allowed to use Yokota Air Base in suburban Tokyo, according to sources. Yokota is currently used exclusively by the U.S. Air Force.

The U.S. is ready to discuss the issue with a view to meeting the Japanese request, the sources said Wednesday.

The request to change the Yokota base into a civilian-military airport was made by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during a summit last year with U.S. President George W. Bush, who expressed a positive view of the possibility.

The United States has proposed that the two countries set up a task force later this year to promote talks on the possibility of opening the base to civilian aircraft, the sources said.

Washington has also proposed that Yokota Air Base be jointly operated by the U.S. Air Force and the Air Self-Defense Force as a strategic transport center.

The U.S. proposals were conveyed to Japan during bilateral talks involving foreign affairs and defense officials in April and July as well as several other diplomatic channels, according to the sources.

However, the idea on the joint strategic transport center could pose a dilemma for Japan, because, if realized, the United States could ask Japan for more logistic support than the current level.