Japan and U.S. to create high-level Futenma panel

by Masami Ito

The Japanese and U.S. governments agreed Tuesday to form a Cabinet minister-level “working group” to explore ways to resolve the stalled relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada announced.

Okada met with U.S. Ambassador John Roos and the two agreed to bring the matter to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible, Okada told a news conference in the afternoon.

“We agreed on the importance of the U.S. military realignment from the viewpoint of reducing the burden on Okinawa while maintaining deterrence,” Okada said. “We also agreed to establish a minister-level working group between the two countries to resolve the issue quickly.”

The group will be headed by Japan’s foreign and defense ministers and the U.S. secretaries of state and defense. Roos will act as a proxy when necessary. The other members, Okada explained, have not yet been decided.

“By creating (a working group) that will concentrate on discussions (about the relocation of Futenma), I believe that we have been able to establish a structure for swift debate,” Okada said.

In 2006, when the Liberal Democratic Party was in power, Japan and the U.S. signed an agreement to move the functions of the Futenma base to a coastal zone in Nago in northern Okinawa by 2014.

The Democratic Party of Japan, however, came to power in September and has been floating different ideas about moving Futenma’s operations outside Okinawa or even Japan.

Yoichi Iha, the mayor of Ginowan, which is home to the Futenma base, strongly urged Hatoyama not to give in to the U.S., saying the prime minister “has the political responsibility to abide by” the promises his party made during the August election campaign to move the air station out of Okinawa.