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News photo
Yoshikazu Shimabukuro –
, mayor of Nago, Okinawa
Prefecture, meets Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga
ahead of their talks at the agency.

The deal, reached between Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga and Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro in Tokyo, brings the government a step closer to relocating the heliport functions of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from downtown Ginowan, central Okinawa, to Cape Henoko in Nago. The feud over the military facility had been one of two major obstacles in the effort to finalize the United States’ military realignment in Japan.

According to the agreement, two runways will be built across the tip of Cape Henoko in a V-shaped formation to prevent U.S. military aircraft from flying over residential areas. One will be used for landings and the other for takeoffs. The U.S. can use either, according to the wind conditions, the government said. Parts of the facility will have to be built in areas currently occupied by the ocean.

Before the agreement, the central government revised the plan in a last-ditch effort to reach an deal with local governments on the island prefecture. The original deadline set by the U.S. and Japan was March 31.

The government presented the revisions to Shimabukuro on Friday afternoon.

“I told him (Nukaga) to work until the very end to gain local understanding and cooperation and I’ll leave everything to him,” said Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who met Nukaga earlier in the day.

The central government and Nago had been unable to bridge their differences over the plan, which will involve building runways on both existing land and land fill.

Nago was demanding that an 1,800-meter runway be built offshore. The government later made minor revisions, such as rotating the L-shaped airfield 10 degrees counterclockwise as a request for U.S. military planes to not fly over residential areas.

“I think the situation will change, although I don’t know in what way,” Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine told a separate news conference earlier Friday, indicating he expected some sort of development.

Arrangements are under way for Inamine to visit Tokyo and meet Nukaga as early as Saturday.