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Thursday, May 4, 2000

Location of leader's summit hinges on the whim of nature


Staff writer

OSAKA — It's billed as the Kyushu-Okinawa Summit, but if Mother Nature turns capricious, then this year's Group of Eight gathering may be forced to a different venue.

In April 1999, when then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi chose Nago, Okinawa, as the site of the summit, concerns about typhoons were immediately raised.

The Meteorological Agency said that during an average July, three typhoons hit the Okinawa region.

In the past two years, however, no typhoons have hit Nago in July — an unusual situation and one the Meteorological Agency doesn't expect to be repeated in 2000.

The potential for nasty weather has spurred the government to discuss contingency plans for holding the summit in Tokyo.

Although the Foreign Ministry said plans have not been finalized, 4,000 hotel rooms in Tokyo may be reserved in case the summit has to be moved suddenly, a European Union official said.

"In the event of a typhoon, the first day's meeting would be held in Tokyo and then everyone would head to Okinawa for the next two days," said an embassy source from another G8 country, speaking anonymously.

Even if a typhoon does not hit Nago directly, strong winds from an approaching or receding storm could make it impossible for helicopters to fly on the appointed days, which has raised security concerns among some G8 countries.

The government, however, said that as long as planes can take off and land there will be no reason to abandon Nago.

"Okinawa wouldn't be scrapped just because helicopters cannot fly. It would be moved to Tokyo if the airport has to close. The Prime Minister's Office will make the final decision (on the move)," said Takashi Ashiki, a Foreign Ministry official.

"We were told by the central government that the weather would be watched closely and that if a typhoon hits, the summit would be held in Tokyo. The key question is how close does a typhoon have to come before the central government decides to switch locations to Tokyo," said Shigeru Yoshida, an official at Naha airport in Okinawa.

But even if all goes as scheduled, the logistics of the summit are proving to be a headache for G8 representatives involved in the planning. Several question whether Okinawa is even feasible — regardless of the weather.

For example, the Emperor is hosting a banquet for G8 leaders on the evening of July 20 in Tokyo. Immediately following, they will have to fly to Okinawa for talks that begin in Nago the following morning.

"The logistics of moving people in and out of Tokyo are proving to be a nightmare and we are not getting the information we should from the Japanese government about alternate plans," complained one Western diplomat involved in the planning.



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