Hatoyama puts ‘life’ on line for relocation issue

by Jun Hongo

Saying he is ready to “risk his life” to achieve an acceptable outcome, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed confidence Wednesday that the issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will be resolved by the end of May as promised.

During Diet debate with opposition leaders, Hatoyama declared he has a plan that is superior to the 2006 accord reached by the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party. That pact calls for moving Futenma’s aircraft operations to the Henoko coast of Camp Schwab in Nago by 2014.

“As the person who will be going through tough negotiations with the United States, I do not have any thoughts about failing” to reach an agreement. “I will risk my life to get results.”

Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan-led administration, which promised to resolve the ongoing problem of where to relocate the air station by the end of May, reportedly plans to transfer Futenma facilities to White Beach in Uruma and construct a heliport at Camp Schwab.

Hatoyama declined to make the plans public at this point when pressed by LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki. But, Hatoyama said, “the plan that I have in mind is as effective or possibly more effective” in resolving the contentious issue.

Prior to his second debate with opposition party leaders since taking power, Hatoyama had expressed his wish to exchange opinions on pressing issues. But Tanigaki didn’t miss his chance to grill Hatoyama over the DPJ’s political funds scandals.

“It’s deeply regrettable that there were such scandals surrounding the government,” Tanigaki said, touching on the arrests of former secretaries to both Hatoyama and DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa over a series of funding improprieties.

Hatoyama responded by apologizing and saying he took responsibility for the crimes committed by his secretary, Keiji Katsuba, who pleaded guilty Monday to falsely listing the sources of political donations. “If I hadn’t been a lawmaker, he wouldn’t have committed such a crime,” Hatoyama said.

Meanwhile, the pressure was also on Tanigaki, who headed into Wednesday’s debate under a cloud of criticism from members of his once-dominant party who now question his ability to lead.

Criticized by some as not being hard-edged enough in the previous debate in February, Tanigaki switched tactics and focused most of his questions on the stalled Futenma talks. But Hatoyama turned the tables by criticizing past LDP administrations for not resolving the issue sooner.

“The dangers of Futenma should have been dealt with without delay, yet no progress was made” for more than a decade, Hatoyama countered.