Noda plans first visit to Okinawa

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will visit Okinawa from Feb. 26 to 27 to seek local consent for moving ahead with the relocation of a key U.S. base within the prefecture, sources said Tuesday.

During his first trip to the prefecture since taking office in September, Noda intends to hold talks with local officials and brief them on discussions with the United States regarding a recent rethink of the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, the sources said.

Noda is expected to stress in his meeting with Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima that the new policy on the U.S. forces realignment will ease the military burden on Okinawa. Last week, Tokyo and Washington released a joint statement about revising a 2006 bilateral accord by delinking the transfer of U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam and the resulting return of the land used by the base to the prefecture, from the issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.

Noda is also expected to note the urgency of pushing for the current plan to relocate Futenma from its current site in densely populated Ginowan to the more rural Nago, the sources said.

The outlook remains uncertain, however, since the governor and local community want Futenma out of Okinawa.

During his talks with Nakaima, Noda is also set to apologize over indiscreet comments made last year by Satoshi Tanaka, former chief of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau, in connection with the Futenma relocation plan, the sources said.