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Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005

U.S. realignment talks in danger

Tokyo links next meetings to agreement on Futenma


Staff writer

Defense Agency chief Yoshinori Ono said Friday that Japan and the United States might not hold realignment talks next week if the two sides fail to agree on where to move the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa.

Tokyo and Washington are still trying to reach an agreement and compile an interim report for the "two-plus-two" meeting of foreign and defense chiefs from the two countries scheduled for Oct. 29 in Washington, Ono said.

He said Tokyo would not insist on having the meeting if the two sides can't reach an agreement by Oct. 29.

Ono said Japan would strive to get the U.S. to agree to its base relocation site. The proposal, put forward last week, is to build an airport with a 1,500-meter runway, partially in Camp Schwab where barracks now stand and extending just offshore.

But Washington has been pressing for the airport to be completely in the shallows.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura refused to comment Friday when asked if the U.S. has told Japan if it officially plans to reject Tokyo's new proposal.

Richard Lawless, the U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense and chief negotiator on U.S. military realignment in Japan, will visit Tokyo to hold working-level talks with his Japanese counterparts on Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Japanese and U.S. officials went to Okinawa earlier this week to assess the locations and flight routes proposed in the two plans as well as the noise levels and environmental impacts.

Japan and the U.S. hope to hold the two-plus-two talks before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi reshuffles the Cabinet early next month.

If the security talks are not held by the end of the month, Futenma will likely be a major issue on the U.S. President George W. Bush's agenda when he makes his two-day visit to Japan from Nov. 15 and could throw cold water on what might otherwise be amicable talks.

The U.S. appears to be getting impatient.

John Hill, the Pentagon's senior director for Japan, went to Okinawa earlier this week to try to persuade senior prefectural officials to accept its plan.

The trip angered Tokyo.

"It is disrespectful for the U.S. to contact Okinawa directly without consent from the Japanese government," a defense agency official said. "Since the U.S. failed to persuade Okinawa, it ended up as their fiasco."



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