Koizumi, Nukaga reject big changes to base relocation plan

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga confirmed Tuesday the government will push ahead with the current relocation plan for the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa.

But the pair, who met at the prime minister’s residence in the morning, also agreed not to rule out minor changes in the plan to move the facility farther north if they are realistic, Nukaga said.

During the talks, the two rejected an alternative proposal by the city of Nago, near where the new facility will be located, to move the construction site far off the coast, Nukaga told reporters after emerging from the meeting.

“We will maintain our principles, but we won’t say we will not concede by even 1 cm,” he said.

“But that (amended plan) should be workable in practice,” the defense chief said.

In the evening, Nukaga met with Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro and other city officials at a Tokyo hotel for talks on the divisive issue.

After more than two hours of talks, the two decided to meet again Wednesday, the mayor told reporters.

Earlier in the day, Shimabukuro and Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine agreed during talks in the prefectural capital of Naha to reject any proposals for “minor adjustments” the state might offer.

The central government’s plan calls for construction of an airstrip to take on the helicopter operations at Futenma along the shore of Camp Schwab in Nago and adjacent waters.

But Nago has insisted the facility be far offshore, citing noise pollution as one reason for its demand.

The central government fears construction in open water could be blockaded by environmentalists who oppose offshore land fill work.

The meeting between Nukaga and Koizumi came ahead of vice ministerial-level talks with the United States set to start March 23 and aimed at completing plans by month’s end to realign the U.S. forces and bases in Japan.

Since an interim report on the realignment was released last October, Tokyo has been fighting an uphill battle with local governments that will be home to the facilities.

Elsewhere in the country, mayors in Hiroshima Prefecture adopted a resolution Tuesday opposing the relocation of 57 U.S. carrier-based aircraft to a base in neighboring Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and demanded that the government rescind the plan.

Information from Kyodo added