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The government may delay finalizing details of the planned relocation of the Futenma air base within Okinawa, Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa indicated Tuesday in reference to the original deadline of August.

Kitazawa, speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting, said the government must pay attention to the result of the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November.

“We must place importance” on the election to choose the governor, “who has the heaviest responsibility for Okinawa,” he said.

Japan and the U.S. agreed in May to move the Futenma base within the prefecture despite strong opposition from local residents.

The two countries then decided to work out by late next month details of the specific relocation site and construction methods for the facility after a series of talks.

Kitazawa said the government hopes it can avoid forcing the people of Okinawa to accept finalized details without argument, adding, “I think it is likely we can’t tell anything for sure until after the election.”

His comments signal the government may not aim for a conclusion during the ongoing talks between Japanese and U.S. officials and experts and will instead narrow the possible options available.

Tokyo’s delay may cause a U.S. backlash. But Kitazawa said, “I believe the U.S. side understands the political situation in Okinawa well.”

The May bilateral accord said more U.S. military drills in Okinawa will be transferred out of the prefecture, with candidate alternate sites including Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, mainland Self-Defense Forces bases and Guam.

Kitazawa has said a clear transfer plan would be compiled by the end of next month. For now, the Defense Ministry will consider moving the drills to SDF facilities where the U.S. forces have already conducted exercises, they said.

Host-cost talks

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) Japan and the United States will hold talks this week on the bilateral accord dealing with Tokyo’s base-hosting expenses, the State Department said.

Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, will be in Tokyo from Thursday to Saturday to lead the U.S. delegation on the negotiations.

Japan’s host-nation support is one of the hot diplomatic issues between the two countries, as Tokyo hopes to trim expenses following the recommendation by the Government Revitalization Unit last year that part of the support be reviewed amid the strained fiscal situation.

On the other hand, the U.S. government has sought an increase in the funding and warned against a reduction, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates noting in talks with Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in late March that host-nation support is strategically important to the Japan-U.S. security alliance.

The talks will be the first on the matter since the Democratic Party of Japan took power last fall. The current accord on host-nation support expires next spring.

According to the State Department, such support is estimated at $4.3 billion per year.

The department said in a statement, “Host-nation support is an important measure of Japan’s commitment to promoting regional security in partnership with the U.S.

“These funds also represent significant investment in Japan’s economy in the form of rents, salaries and services,” it added.

Shapiro is also scheduled to meet with U.S. Forces Japan Commander Lt. Gen. Edward Rice. He will travel to South Korea to meet government officials and the head of the U.S. forces in that country before visiting Japan.

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