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Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage indicated Wednesday the United States will not accept a request made by Okinawa for imposing a time limit on the U.S. military’s use of a new airport to be built in the prefecture.

“I think the U.S. government is very clear on this,” Armitage told reporters after a congressional hearing.

Okinawa has proposed that Japan set a 15-year limit on the military-civilian airport to be built in Nago, northern Okinawa, to take over the helicopter operations of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, central Okinawa.

Armitage confirmed he did not take up the time-limit issue during his meeting Tuesday with Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine.

“In my meeting, we did not talk about that,” he said.

Inamine, who is in Washington on the first leg of his two-week tour of the U.S., handed Armitage a document containing a set of requests by Okinawa, including the airport time limit.

During talks in March with then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, U.S. President George W. Bush said the proposed time limit is a difficult issue.

Annual protest march

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. (Kyodo) About 1,000 people began a three-day march Thursday from Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, to protest a plan to relocate a U.S. military helicopter base within Okinawa.

The protest march, organized by the Okinawa Peace Action Center, left Nago in northern Okinawa and headed for Naha, the prefectural capital.

The march will pass U.S. military bases in the prefecture, including Kadena Air Base in central Okinawa, the largest U.S. air base in Asia.

The annual march was begun in 1976 and takes place around May 15, the day when Okinawa was returned to Japan in 1972 after 27 years of U.S. control.

In April, a senior U.S. administration official said, “We just don’t get into discussion about deadlines for things.”

Tokyo has avoided committing itself to the Okinawa request, only saying Japan and the U.S. should continue to deal with the matter.

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