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Friday, Oct. 14, 2005

Japan pitches new Futenma plan

Runway would extend offshore from Camp Schwab

Staff writer

The government sprang a new plan on the United States for relocating the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, that would entail building a runway in Camp Schwab on land now occupied by a barracks and filling in an offshore area, a senior LDP lawmaker said Thursday.

The two sides, however, failed to reach an agreement during the two-day talks and will continue working-level negotiations in an effort to compile an interim report by the end of the month, a top Foreign Ministry official said.

The new proposal means Japan has given up on its earlier plan to build an airport totally inside Camp Schwab, which is in Nago, said former Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga, who briefed reporters after a meeting the same day with Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense.

The government has "effectively abandoned the inland proposal," Nukaga said.

Lawless, who left Tokyo later in the day, was in Japan to talk with his Japanese counterparts about Japan's role in the global U.S. military realignment. The talks are in the final stages of negotiation.

Since the U.S. is still pushing its plan to build a 1,500-meter runway off Nago -- a downsized version of the original plan -- it remains unclear whether they will be able to reach an agreement by the end of the month, when they are to compile an interim report on Japan's part in the U.S. military realignment.

If the relocation dispute is resolved, the U.S. will consider reducing the number of marines in Okinawa and allowing joint use of its bases in Japan, Nukaga quoted Lawless as saying.

According to the new plan, the runway would be built partly on land in Camp Schwab where barracks now stand and on an area to be filled in a seaweed-free part of the sea, Nukaga said.

"It is environment-friendly and thus may gain more (support) than the U.S. proposal," Nukaga said.

However, according to Nukaga, the U.S. side was reluctant to accept the plan since it was proposed in the final stages of negotiations.

"Is the new proposal aimed at shelving the relocation issue?" Nukaga quoted Lawless as asking.

Nukaga's remark came as the Foreign Ministry began voicing concerns that the relocation dispute may damage Japanese-U.S. relations.

The government had initially pushed for a plan to build an airfield in a training site in Camp Schwab, but the U.S. side was reluctant because it would hinder training.

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The Japan Times

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