Hatoyama’s plan to move marines to Tokunoshima gets icy reception

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Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Wednesday revealed his plan to move as many as 1,000 of the 2,500 U.S. Marines based at the Futenma air station in Okinawa to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture during a meeting with former Lower House member Torao Tokuda, a native of Tokunoshima, Tokuda’s son said.

But the retired lawmaker, who is still influential in his old district, rejected the idea, saying construction of a base is “unacceptable,” according to Tokuda’s son, Takeshi, who serves as a Liberal Democratic Party Lower House member.

While Torao Tokuda made assurances he will do what he can to set up a meeting between the prime minister and the three mayors on Tokunoshima, the former lawmaker shot down Hatoyama’s proposal, calling it unfeasible.

Afterward, Hatoyama told reporters he shared with Tokuda some options for Futenma the administration is considering but declined to say whether he prefers the plan to move 1,000 marines to Tokunoshima.

“I can’t comment on the content” of the meeting, Hatoyama said, adding the administration is still in the process of finalizing its plans for Futenma.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano separately talked with Takeshi Tokuda, but that meeting didn’t go any better.

At a news conference following the meeting, Takeshi Tokuda said he stressed to Hirano there “is no room for Tokunoshima to accept” some of Futenma’s operations.

Hirano has expressed willingness to visit Tokunoshima Island in person, but the younger Tokuda said that wouldn’t be a good idea.

“It would be difficult for a high-ranking government official to visit Tokunoshima, even if there is a riot squad” to control base opponents, Tokuda said. “They should meet in Tokyo.”

Hatoyama has indicated that the administration is nearing the final stages of creating its proposal for a relocation site, with government sources saying the prime minister is preparing to visit Okinawa on Tuesday for a meeting with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima.

But Wednesday’s development brings negotiations back to square one, making it more doubtful that the government will resolve the issue by the self-imposed May 31 deadline.

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell met Wednesday with Kazuyoshi Umemoto, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau, and Nobushige Takamizawa, head of the Defense Ministry’s Defense Policy Bureau, to exchange opinions on the Futenma issue.

Campbell, in charge of East Asia and Pacific affairs, told reporters after the meeting in Tokyo that he had good talks with his counterparts but declined to elaborate.

The Foreign Ministry only said in a news release that Campbell, Umemoto and Takamizawa exchanged views on how to deepen the alliance between U.S. and Japan.