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The government tried last year to heed local requests to build a U.S. Marine Corps air base runway farther out on a cape in Okinawa than was planned under a 2006 U.S.-Japan accord, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Saturday.

But Machimura said Yasuo Fukuda’s resignation as prime minister last September dashed Tokyo’s hopes of settling the issue over the relocation of the Futenma air station while George W. Bush was still U.S. president.

“We had handled the issue with the intention of building a consensus with Okinawa, but Fukuda’s sudden departure made it impossible to proceed with the plan,” said Machimura, who held his post in the Fukuda administration for a year from September 2007.

Machimura made the remarks after his successor, Takeo Kawamura, said April 8 that Prime Minister Taro Aso’s administration will “handle the matter sincerely” if opinions are fielded from the Okinawa governor.

Kawamura’s comment is seen as the most positive to date by a senior central government official regarding the possibility of building the runway farther out on the cape near Nago than the location agreed upon by Japan and the United States.

The prefectural government has asked that the runway be located farther offshore, citing local residents’ concerns about safety and noise that could arise after the runway opens.

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