Nakaima OKs base move — with proviso

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima said Tuesday he will allow the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to be relocated off Nago, northern Okinawa Island, on condition its runways are built farther offshore than agreed.

The governor’s remark conflicts with plans by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration to move the facility outside the prefecture.

Nakaima, who submitted a written statement on the environment assessment to the government the same day, also urged the central government to make a decision soon.

“The coalition government has said it will review the planned U.S. forces realignment, but concrete steps and a timeline have not been indicated yet,” Nakaima said. “Under such circumstances, the significance of carrying out the ongoing environmental assessment process could be questioned.

“We want the central government to clarify its policy and present specific proposals at an early date,” he said.

Nakaima said moving the air station outside the prefecture would be “the best choice,” but the local government “had to accept the transfer within the prefecture to remove the danger of the Futenma facility as soon as possible.”

Hatoyama, who took office in mid-September, has said he will try to move Futenma’s aircraft operations outside Okinawa, or even outside Japan itself.

That goes against the accord Japan and the United States signed in 2006 to move the air station in downtown Ginowan to Camp Schwab, which is in a less densely populated area of Nago, by 2014.

In Tokyo, Hatoyama told reporters the governor’s feelings “are significant” but added the central government needs to listen to the general and overall view of the local residents.

“We cannot ignore the Japan-U.S. accord, but what’s important is how we sense the general feeling of the Okinawan people. We want to study how to settle the issue while hearing local residents’ views,” Hatoyama said.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told reporters the government will try to solidify its policy on Futenma as soon as possible but added it has been “cautiously” discussing the matter with the United States since the change in government and the change in the political situation in Okinawa.

Candidates backed by Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan and its partners won all four single-seat constituencies in Okinawa during the general election Aug. 30.