Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Thursday effectively retracted his pledge to resolve the Futenma relocation dispute by his self-imposed deadline, saying he will continue negotiations beyond June if his administration can’t reach a comprehensive deal this month.
“If there are issues that need to be discussed in June and beyond, we will obviously work hard,” Hatoyama told reporters.
He repeated that agreeing on a deal by May 31 is a promise he intends to keep but acknowledged it is uncertain that a conclusion can be reached by then.
The Democratic Party of Japan-led administration had promised to resolve the ongoing problem of where to relocate Futenma’s operations by the end of May, with Hatoyama telling the Diet earlier this year he will “risk his life” to achieve an acceptable outcome.
Hatoyama had expressed confidence that the government’s proposals — which include relocating Futenma’s operations to Camp Schwab in Nago, Okinawa, as well as Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture — will gain the acceptance of local governments, the coalition members and Washington.
But so far the plan has received a cold shoulder in the areas that would be affected, with protest rallies in both Okinawa and Kagoshima drawing thousands of angry residents.
Hatoyama has also failed to gain the support of his coalition allies, with the chief of the pacifist Social Democratic Party, Mizuho Fukushima, warning that the government shouldn’t rush to a conclusion just to make the deadline.
Meanwhile Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano, who was in Kagoshima on Wednesday to meet with politicians from Tokunoshima, revealed that the government’s proposals were unanimously rejected.
“The only optimistic development was that they said it was helpful to have met me,” Hirano said Thursday.
He added that he intends to continue discussions with Tokunoshima residents and seek help in alleviating the burden on Okinawa.
Although negotiations with local governments and Washington may continue into June, Hirano also said the Cabinet intends to settle on some form of a plan on how to deal with the Futenma issue by the end of May.