WASHINGTON – Washington has welcomed Tokyo’s formal request to Okinawa for permission to provide landfill for the U.S. Futenma replacement base, calling it “a key milestone” after years of tough bilateral negotiations.
“We welcomed the government of Japan’s submission of the landfill permit request to the Okinawa Prefectural Government today,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement Friday.
“This is a key milestone that comes after years of hard work between the United States and Japan,” he said. “It marks a significant step toward realizing the vision of the 2006 realignment road map (for U.S. forces in Japan) and toward achieving a sustainable U.S. military presence with less impact on the Okinawan people.
“We look forward to continuing to work with the Japanese government on these issues and to moving ahead with the relocation of (U.S.) Marines to Guam,” Little said.
The long-delayed closure of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is in a residential area in the city of Ginowan, and construction of a replacement airfield has been a major stumbling block in the overall reorganization of U.S. bases and forces in Japan.
In the face of firm local opposition to the current bilateral plan to keep the Futenma facility within the prefecture, Tokyo and Washington last year agreed to delink the base relocation discussions and the transfer of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
Referring to an April 2012 joint statement by Tokyo and Washington, Little said the current plan to build a replacement facility near U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in the Henoko coastal district of Nago “remains the only viable alternative to the continued use” of the Futenma air station.
“This effort is critical to our ongoing re-balance to the Asia-Pacific region and our ability to maintain a well-distributed and politically sustainable force throughout Asia,” Little said.
He also stressed the merit of the Futenma transfer in terms of easing the prefecture’s burden from hosting the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan, saying it “will reduce our footprint in the most populated part of Okinawa and enable the return of significant land south of Kadena Air Base.”
“We will be working with the Japanese government to jointly release these plans for land returns soon,” he said.