WASHINGTON (Kyodo) U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Wednesday he hopes for a resolution to the issue of relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa by around the end of this spring.
In Tokyo, the top government spokesman said Thursday that Japan is not considering putting a deadline on settling the relocation issue, while the governor of Okinawa showed displeasure following Gates’ remarks.
In a House Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates also said the resolution is a prerequisite for the transfer of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and the return of U.S. bases south of the Kadena Air Base to the Japanese side.
“My hope is, based on my conversations in Japan, that we will have some resolution of this by later this spring or early summer,” Gates said.
“But absent resolution of the Futenma replacement facility issue, our troops aren’t coming out of Okinawa, land is not being returned to the Okinawans and we have to sort of start all over again,” the defense chief added.
“As I mentioned earlier, we really can’t go forward on Guam — and in fact, the Congress has withheld money for going forward on Guam — until we have greater clarity on what happens on Okinawa.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Japan is not planning to set a deadline on the relocation issue and will continue to work toward the relocation in line with an agreement struck last May with the United States.
“In order to win the acceptance of people in Okinawa, I don’t think that setting a deadline would support efforts toward the resolution,” Edano said at a news conference.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima showed displeasure with the handling of the matter by Tokyo and Washington.
In response to Gates’ remarks, it seems the relocation issue “won’t go anywhere by this spring,” he said in Okinawa. “They always go over the head of Okinawa, which is a central player, in getting things done” in the negotiations.
Japan and the United States plan to hold a two-plus-two national security meeting during the Golden Week holiday from late April to early May, where the relocation issue is expected to be discussed.
The two governments are also arranging for Prime Minister Naoto Kan to visit the United States during the first half of this year to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama following the security meeting.
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