WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department retracted on Saturday an earlier announcement that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would meet with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada this Friday.
The department apparently jumped the gun when it made the announcement earlier in the day. Japan had only said that Okada wants to meet with Clinton in Washington but whether he would make the trip was undecided.
Japanese government sources said last-minute arrangements for the meeting were are still taking place, and Okada is expected to visit the U.S. to see Clinton possibly on Friday.
Okada has been eager to meet with Clinton ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to Tokyo to discuss the increasingly fractious question of where the U.S. Futenma military airfield in Okinawa Prefecture should be relocated.
The United States has made it clear that Japan should come to a decision in time for Obama’s trip to Tokyo on Nov. 12 to 13 — and in line with the existing bilateral deal that would keep the functions of the Futenma air base within Okinawa.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has asserted he can take his time to consider the matter, saying he does not believe Japan has to reach a decision by the time he and Obama meet.
Differences among Cabinet members are making matters more murky, with Okada, in defiance of the existing deal, floating the idea of transferring the air base’s functions to the nearby U.S. Kadena air base.
On Thursday, the U.S. Defense Department said it can’t support the Futenma-Kadena integration idea due to operational difficulties.
“Operationally, it is unworkable,” Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. “And so you cannot consolidate the air force operations, the marine corps operations onto that facility and do all the things that we need to do to provide for the defense of Japan.
“So that is not a suitable replacement for Futenma,” he said.
Noting the United States has weighed the Futenma-Kadena merger option before, Morrell said the conclusion was that “it simply does not work.”
“The only replacement that works is the one that’s been agreed to by both of our governments, that’s been built over the last 15 years, and that’s Camp Schwab,” he said. “And that’s where we are focusing our efforts, and we hope the Japanese government will, as well.”
As part of the 2006 bilateral accord on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, which took years to hammer out, the Futenma base is to be relocated from downtown Ginowan to Nago by 2014.