Japan mulls talks with U.S. on earlier relocation of Futenma air base

Kyodo

Tokyo may propose to Washington discussions on an earlier than scheduled relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture, government sources said Saturday.

The government is contemplating the move as part of efforts to win approval by Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for landfill work necessary to move ahead with a bilateral agreement to relocate the base within the prefecture, according to the sources.

Nakaima, who plans to make a decision by Dec. 31 on whether to authorize the request, has asked the central government to ensure the closure of the Futenma base within five years, among other conditions.

Under the current estimate of Tokyo and Washington, it will take nine years to move the Futenma base from the crowded city of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago on Okinawa Island.

The two countries plan to discuss shortening the construction phase of the replacement facility and other means of realizing an earlier return to Japanese control of the land currently occupied by the Futenma base, the sources said.

Nakaima is also calling for a revision of the Status of Forces Agreement on the operations of U.S. military installations in Japan.

The central government is considering whether it is possible to pursue the matter with Washington, the government sources said, although the U.S. is unlikely to agree. Referring to Nakaima’s request, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters last week that the United States “has not agreed to and will not consider” opening the SOFA to renegotiation.

Through a revision to the 1960 agreement, Nakaima is seeking authorization for Japanese investigators to operate within U.S. military premises in investigating alleged crimes and accidents involving American personnel. The SOFA at present restricts such access.

To help reduce the burden on Okinawa from hosting the majority of American military forces in Japan, the central government is also considering building hangars for U.S. Osprey aircraft at Self-Defense Forces bases outside Okinawa, to make it easier for the U.S. military to conduct flight training in places other than the prefecture, the government sources said.