Tokyo plans to defer a decision on specifics for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa until after the prefecture’s gubernatorial election in late November, government sources said Sunday.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his Cabinet, including Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, are expected to discuss the matter Tuesday to confirm the deferral plan, the sources said.
The move comes as Japanese and U.S. experts work to complete a study by the end of August on the technical details of the planned Futenma relocation, based on a bilateral accord reached in May.
But Tokyo intends to consider multiple options, not just the relocation plan to be compiled by the experts, the sources said.
The government has determined that concluding a detailed plan with the United States before the Nov. 28 gubernatorial election would not be wise, considering that the base transfer also requires cooperation from local governments, whose opposition to any relocation within the prefecture remains strong, according to the sources.
An election is also scheduled in September for the municipal assembly of Nago, where Futenma’s flight operations are to be moved.
The United States may object to the government’s plan to defer the final scheme for the Futenma relocation as well as to consider proposals other than the one being compiled by the experts.
Japan and the United States said in their joint statement in May that the “verification and validation” of the experts’ study results would be completed by the time the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries next meet.
At the time, the next bilateral ministerial talks, dubbed the “two-plus-two” security meeting, was envisioned for September, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York.
But after Kan became prime minister in early June, the government began to feel that dialogue between the two governments on the matter should not proceed prior to the gubernatorial poll, the sources said.
The development could also cast a shadow over U.S. President Barack Obama’s trip to Japan slated for November.
The joint statement agreed upon in late May calls for the two countries to reach a conclusion by the end of August on the specific location, construction method and other details of the facility on the Henoko cape in Nago to replace Futenma.
The multiple options Japan is expected to consider are expected to center on constructing either two runways in a V-shaped pattern or a single runway, the sources said. In either case, the location would be on filled-in shallows in Henoko.
Japan has been proposing a single 1,800-meter runway, saying that would reduce the area of fill required for the construction, but the United States has been pushing for the two runways, as agreed earlier, saying that would allow fighters to avoid flying over residential areas.
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