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Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine made it clear Friday that he will accept the relocation of key functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to a new facility within the prefecture — as long as the site is a joint military-civilian site that the U.S. military will be required to leave in 15 years.

“Many Okinawans hope the Futenma airfield will be returned unconditionally, but when we consider the international situation, we will have to make the bitter choice of moving it to another place (in Okinawa),” Inamine said during talks between central and prefectural government officials at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Although Inamine did not mention a candidate site for the new facility, it is widely believed he will select the Henoko district of the northern Okinawa city of Nago, near Camp Schwab. The governor is expected to announce his decision next week.

Inamine’s comment marks a major development in the stalled efforts for relocating the military functions of the Futenma base, which is located close to residential areas in Ginowan, in line with a Japan-U.S. agreement.

The 1996 agreement stipulates the Futenma airfield be closed in five to seven years on condition that its military functions are relocated to another site within the prefecture.

But talks to select an alternative site have been deadlocked, and government officials recently said the return of Futenma by 2003 is unlikely.

Tokyo has been under pressure to resolve the heliport relocation issue quickly so it won’t flare up during next summer’s Group of Eight leaders’ summit in Nago.

During Friday’s talks, Inamine urged Tokyo to present clear policies to boost the local economy.

He also demanded that the central government be aggressively involved in the redevelopment of the Futenma site as a civilian district after its return from the U.S. military.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki said after the meeting that the central government will deal positively with Okinawa’s demands through further dialogue.

“The relocation issue took a step forward with today’s meeting, and I hope we can settle it as early as possible,” he said.

After the meeting, Inamine told reporters he welcomed the central government’s attitude, saying he got the impression that the government is making serious efforts to deal with the relocation issue.

However, some key hurdles remain until a final agreement is reached.

After the talks, Inamine again stressed that Okinawa will demand that the new facility be jointly used by the U.S. military and civilian aircraft, and that use by the U.S. military be limited to 15 years.

These two points made up the key pledge in his campaign for the governor’s post last year; Inamine defeated Masahide Ota, who opposed construction of a new facility within the prefecture.

At a regular news conference, Aoki said the two sides did not exchange views on the matter.

“We take the governor’s campaign pledge seriously, but we also have to consider the U.S. military’s requests, and we cannot predict what the international situation will be 15 years ahead,” Aoki said.

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