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Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on Wednesday dismissed growing calls in Okinawa Prefecture for the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine base in Futenma to be moved to another country instead of relocated to a planned offshore facility in the prefecture, a government official said.

The official said Hashimoto conveyed his opinions in a meeting with Kosuke Uehara, a Lower House member of the Social Democratic Party from Okinawa Prefecture. “Given the serious changes in the Asian situation, including India’s nuclear tests and the conditions in Indonesia, the United States is expected to react sharply to such an idea,” the official quoted Hashimoto as saying.

Hashimoto also told Uehara that he is prepared to meet with Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota “at any time,” the official said. A senior government official had said such a meeting was unlikely until after the House of Councilors elections in July.

Japan and the United States agreed in 1996 to close the Futenma base, which is located in a residential area of Ginowan, in five to seven years on the condition that the heliport’s operations be relocated elsewhere in Okinawa. The return of the Futenma base was the centerpiece of a bilateral agreement that the U.S. give back 21 percent of the land used by its military in Okinawa Prefecture.

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