Futenma deal ‘will be respected’: Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The U.S. government is exploring possible changes to Tokyo’s policies after the resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, particularly on the relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa.

Japan and the United States released a joint statement Friday stating a fresh agreement to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the Henoko coast of Nago, largely in line with an accord struck in 2006.

A senior Pentagon official told reporters Tuesday before Hatoyama’s resignation announcement that the U.S. government expects the agreement “will be respected” by “whoever is in power.”

His remarks indicate Washington wants Hatoyama’s successor to inherit the policy regarding the base relocation.

“This is an agreement between governments, not between politicians,” the official said.

A pundit close to the U.S. government said Washington saw it as a matter of time before Hatoyama stepped down after his public support rate plunged to around 20 percent.

Noting that recent surveys show both the Japanese and U.S. public back the bilateral alliance, a senior U.S. official said Hatoyama’s departure is not likely to affect relations in the medium term.

Still, some people are concerned about possible repercussions, given that the Democratic Party of Japan’s landslide victory and rise to power last year led to the wrangling over the relocation of the Futenma airfield.

With the DPJ soon to begin choosing a successor to Hatoyama, some U.S. officials who are familiar with Japanese politics are wary about the leftist background of Finance Minister Naoto Kan, a strong candidate for the prime minister’s job.

But others expect Kan, who is also deputy prime minister, to handle relations effectively by learning lessons from Hatoyama’s difficulties.