National

Drop base plan: Iwakuni mayor

Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara urged Tokyo again Thursday to withdraw the planned relocation of U.S. carrier-borne aircraft to his city after a majority of residents voted “no” on the move in a plebiscite Sunday.

“I’ve come to tell (the government) to seriously take to heart the plebiscite results as they reflect the residents’ will,” Ihara said, calling the plan “unacceptable” and “burdensome” to the local community.

After a meeting at the Foreign Ministry with Noriyuki Shikata, director of the Status of U.S. Forces Agreement Division, Ihara also met with senior officials at the Defense Agency and the Defense Facilities Administration Agency in the afternoon.

Masami Oka, special assistant to the deputy administrative vice minister at the Defense Agency, said Ihara submitted a petition demanding the government drop plans to relocate 57 U.S. carrier-based aircraft from Kanagawa Prefecture to Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

Ihara, whose term expires when Iwakuni merges with seven neighboring municipalities into a new city next Monday, also demanded the government drop plans to transfer 17 Maritime Self-Defense Force planes from Iwakuni to Atsugi, saying the move will not be beneficial for Iwakuni.

Ihara quoted Shikata as saying he would convey the message to Foreign Minister Taro Aso. Similarly at the Defense Agency, Oka said he told the mayor he would relay the demands to his bosses.

Ihara said he requested a meeting with the ministry and agency chiefs but was told they were unavailable due to the ongoing Diet session.

“I hope the government comes to a conclusion after sufficient negotiations with the local community and is not hasty, as that could lead to problems,” Ihara told reporters at the Foreign Ministry.

“Especially for residents near the base who are already suffering, there is a strong feeling that any additional burden will be unbearable,” the mayor said later at the Defense Agency. “I want the government to take the opinions seriously and devote itself to discussing the issue with the communities.”

Ihara said the officials did not give him any concrete response but they told him the government is working toward finalizing the plan by the end of this month, in line with the Japan-U.S. plan reached last October, and will continue to try to persuade Iwakuni and other affected communities to accept the plan.

Also Thursday, Mayor Katsuji Hoshino of Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, which will also be affected by the realignment plans, visited the Defense Agency for a meeting with senior officials.

The Japan-U.S. realignment plans for U.S. forces in Japan, part of the U.S. global military transformation, also includes moving about 8,000 U.S. Marines out of Okinawa to Guam, and relocating a downtown U.S. air station to a new coastal airfield within the southernmost prefecture.

Under the bilateral accord reached last October, the United States also plans to move the U.S. Army 1st Corps headquarters in Washington state to Zama.