Tokyo, Nago agree talks will continue about base

by Reiji Yoshida

The Defense Agency and Nago, Okinawa, remained divided Wednesday over the plan to move the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter base now in Futenma, central Okinawa, to the city in the northern part of the island but agreed to continue talking to make a deal by the end of the month, officials said.

During the second day of talks in Tokyo Wednesday involving Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro and other Nago officials and Iwao Kitahara, director general of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency, Shimabukuro repeated that Nago opposes the plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station to a coastal and offshore area at Cape Henoko because it poses a danger to residents and would subject them to noise pollution, DFAA officials told reporters after the meeting.

“Our No. 1 emphasis is on safety and noise problems,” Shimabukuro was quoted as saying.

The officials of the DFAA, an arm of the Defense Agency, said the proposed air station was designed to meet national safety and noise pollution standards for airports.

The city of Nago wants the new facility to be built farther offshore.

During Wednesday’s meeting, central government officials argued that building farther out in the sea would destroy seaweed beds there, which could adversely affect endangered dugongs in the area, according to the DFAA.

The meetings came just before Tokyo and Washington open two days of vice-ministerial-level talks Thursday to discuss realignment plans for the U.S. military in Japan.

The possibility of making minor changes to Tokyo’s Futenma relocation plan, as some senior officials in the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito have suggested recently, did not come up during Wednesday’s meeting, according to the officials.