Noda stands by Tanaka, qualifies Futenma flub


Staff Writer

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on Tuesday stood behind his new defense minister, Naoki Tanaka, who days into his job drew fire from the opposition camp for suggesting the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma may begin by year’s end.

During a group media interview at the prime minister’s office, Noda said Tanaka’s remarks were misinterpreted.

“The government has not decided (to begin construction) by the end of the year at its own discretion,” Noda said. “There has been a misunderstanding, because (Tanaka) said ‘begin construction.’ The relocation is based on the premise that we gain the (acceptance)” of the people of Okinawa, he said.

The Liberal Democratic Party-led opposition camp, however, is getting ready to go after Tanaka in the Diet session that starts next Tuesday.

Meanwhile Noda’s key goal of raising the consumption tax via cross-party discussions is no closer to reality because the opposition wants him to first dissolve the Lower House for a general election to get a voter mandate before such talks proceed.

Noda stuck to his guns Tuesday, however, saying he would only dissolve the chamber and call an election once the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration’s bills to reform the social security and tax systems, including hiking the sales tax, have been approved by the Diet.

“Basically we must stand from a broad view and proceed with discussions with the opposition parties,” Noda said. “There is so much that needs to be dealt with, and (any election would have to come) once we’ve achieved those goals.”

Noda also hinted he may visit the U.S. in the spring “when the cherry blossoms” bloom. 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of when Japan presented 3,000 cherry trees to Washington as a gift, and both countries hope to take the opportunity to sboost ties.

“This is a good year to reconfirm our friendly ties. It is my policy to deepen the Japan-U.S. alliance and to deepen security and economic relations as well as personal exchanges,” Noda said.

Tokyo and Washington do not see eye-to-eye, however, on the West’s sanctions against Iran. While Japan echoed the global criticism over Iran’s enrichment of uranium, the government has also repeatedly expressed concern over the impact the sanctions could have on Japan and the international economy.

“I believe (Japan and the U.S.) both understand each other’s position and we must hold discussions to see what sort of practical measures can be taken,” Noda said.