WASHINGTON – The United States has rejected a proposal to build an airport inside the U.S. Marines Corps Camp Schwab to relocate the helicopter operations of the Futenma Air Station in Okinawa, according to sources.
The U.S. urged Japan to consider the other option of constructing an airport inside the reef alongside Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago, during bilateral military realignment talks in Washington, the sources said.
Senior defense and foreign affairs officials began two-day working level-talks Monday on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, but decided to continue the talks Wednesday.
The two sides are trying to agree on an alternative to the stalled plan to build a civilian-military airport with a 2,500-meter runway outside the reef off Henoko to relocate the Futenma helicopter operations now in Ginowan.
The two nations have narrowed down the alternative locations to two, but differences of opinion on the options are complicating negotiations.
The U.S. Defense Department is pressing for the plan to build an airport in the shallows, while the Defense Agency wants to construct it within the camp.
During the ongoing talks, the U.S. explained its rejection of the inland option, saying it would cause helicopters to fly over communities — one of the major reasons for relocating the Futenma base — and Tokyo has not obtained the support of local authorities and residents for the plan, the sources said.
The two nations are in basic agreement that they should build a military-only airstrip with a 1,500-meter runway in order to shorten the construction period to about five years from the more than 10 years outlined in the initial plan.
The Futenma issue is likely to affect the overall bilateral talks for crafting a comprehensive package on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan. The two nations plan to compile an interim report by the end of October.