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The government will decide on its embattled plan to build a sea-based heliport off the northern Okinawa city of Nago after the Nov. 15 gubernatorial election in the prefecture, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi suggested Tuesday.

“I would like to watch movements within Okinawa closely,” Obuchi told reporters when asked about recent comments by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen that Washington would consider alternate plans for replacing the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station. “It is necessary to proceed smoothly with the relocation (of the air station) with regard to cooperation between the Japanese and United States governments,” he said.

The relocation of key marine helicopter operations from Futenma, which is located close to residential areas in the city of Ginowan, also in Okinawa Prefecture, is a prerequisite for the base’s closure, and Obuchi reiterated the government’s stance that the sea-based heliport plan is the best option for fulfilling the 1996 Japan-U.S. accord to close the it within the agreed-upon five to seven years.

“We haven’t given up the offshore heliport plan yet,” Obuchi said.

Tokyo has proposed building a sea-based heliport off the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, but the project has been stalled because both Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota and his main opponent, Keiichi Inamine, oppose it.

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