National / Politics

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga asks Abe to set up meeting with Obama


Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga asked Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday to set up a meeting between him and U.S. President Barack Obama, days after an American base worker reportedly admitted to raping and murdering a Japanese woman in the prefecture.

Arranging the meeting would be “difficult,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference following a meeting between Onaga and Abe in Tokyo. “We think that issues related to security and diplomacy should be discussed between the central governments of the countries.”

Onaga told reporters after the meeting that he also called for a “drastic review” of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the accord that defines the handling of U.S. military and other personnel in Japan.

Referring to Obama’s planned visit later this week, Onaga said, “As governor of Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military bases in Japan, I would very much like to directly speak to President Obama so as to ensure the safety of prefectural residents’ lives and property, as well as of children and grandchildren in the future.

“We can never tolerate such an incident,” he said of the slaying of Uruma resident Rina Shimabukuro. “This is a crime simply because U.S. military bases exist. I lodge a strong protest against it.”

Last Thursday, former U.S. Marine Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, 32, was arrested for allegedly dumping the slain woman’s body. Investigative sources say he has since admitted to sexually assaulting and killing her.

The incident is likely to reignite resentment against U.S. military personnel and the large base presence in the island prefecture. It could also spark anti-American sentiment ahead of Obama’s trip, which will include a historic visit to Hiroshima.

To convey the U.S. government’s apology, U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy might visit Okinawa as early as this week to speak with Onaga, a Japanese official said.

Suga said that when Abe meets with Obama on the sidelines of the two-day Group of Seven summit starting Thursday in Mie Prefecture, he will call for the U.S. to take effective measures to prevent similar incidents involving military personnel.

Abe “will strongly demand that the U.S. side take effective and convincing measures to prevent incidents and accidents involving U.S. servicemen and others,” the top government spokesman said.

“The prime minister said he felt indignation and offered sympathy to the bereaved family,” Suga said. “Taking into account public sentiment, he will call for strict measures, I believe.”

Officials and experts are concerned that the incident could complicate the talks between the central government and Okinawa over the long-delayed relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Onaga is demanding the base be relocated outside Okinawa. But the central government argues that moving Futenma from crowded Ginowan to the less-populated Nago is the “only solution” to the dangers posed by the base without undermining the Japan-U.S. alliance in an increasingly tense security environment in East Asia.