During a working dinner on April 12 for the nuclear security summit in Washington, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was seated next to U.S. President Barack Obama and the two leaders held unofficial talks for 10 minutes. Mr. Hatoyama told Mr. Obama that the issue of the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma on Okinawa Island would be settled by the end of May and asked Mr. Obama to understand his attempt to alleviate the burden on the residents of Okinawa.
Apparently he did not get an encouraging answer from Mr. Obama, since he has refused to disclose what the president said. Having given himself till the end of May to solve the problem, the clock is now ticking for Mr. Hatoyama.
The Hatoyama administration is reportedly considering the following plan: move the Futenma helicopter unit to Tokunoshima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, 200 km away; build a helicopter pad in Camp Schwab in Henoko, Nago city, in the northern part of Okinawa Island, and move some of the Futenma functions there; and eventually reclaim land off Katsuren Peninsula in the central part of Okinawa Island and move the Futenma air station there. But this plan remains very vague.
The United States does not like the Hatoyama plan, attaching importance to integrated operations between a helicopter unit and a land unit. The U.S. takes the position that the Futenma functions should be moved to V-shaped runways located in Camp Schwab and on reclaimed land off the camp, as the two nations agreed in 2006.
A prerequisite for solving the Futenma issue is getting the consent of communities that would serve as hosts for relocated Futenma functions. But the three mayors in Tokunoshima and Kagoshima Gov. Yuichiro Ito are against the plan. Many Okinawa residents also oppose the plan.
Mr. Hatoyama must mobilize Cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and experts on the issue to unify the Cabinet view and come up with a concrete plan that the U.S. will regard as worthy of consideration. He must also convince both the Japanese people and the U.S. that he is making serious efforts to settle this matter.
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