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Friday, April 16, 2010

'Progress' on Futenma redefined

Hirano: Late talks with local politicians may cue 'conclusion'

Staff writer

Members of the government and ruling coalition on Thursday had different takes on what they would consider acceptable progress over relocating the U.S. Futenma air base, as the likelihood of resolving the contentious issue by the end of May faded following Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's unproductive visit to Washington.

"A conclusion will be a conclusion," Hatoyama told reporters when asked if he intends to reach an agreement, as pledged, by the end of May with both Washington and local government.

"It means that all parties will have agreed on a single plan (by then), and I intend to reach such a condition," Hatoyama said.

But Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano gave a different take, telling reporters that Tokyo, Washington and local governments don't necessarily need to be on the same page by the end of May to consider progress has been made.

The top government spokesman said he would consider it a "conclusion" of the Futenma relocation if local governments and Tokyo are in negotiations by then.

"That situation in a way would indicate some sort of an understanding" from residents in the areas affected, Hirano said.

Hatoyama has stated he will "risk his life" to achieve an acceptable outcome over the Futenma issue, and failure to resolve the matter by the end of May would increase pressure on him to step down. Hirano's comments could help blur the lines in case the government fails to reach a conclusion as promised.

Despite being weeks away from the self-imposed deadline, the government has yet to officially reveal a plan for relocating the Futenma air station.

But the U.S. has reportedly rejected some of Tokyo's pitches, including constructing an artificial island near the U.S. Navy facility at White Beach on Okinawa and relocating parts of Futenma's operations to Tokunoshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

After briefly speaking with President Barack Obama during the Nuclear Safety Summit in Washington earlier this week, Hatoyama essentially acknowledged his counterpart's dissatisfaction by refusing to share details of their discussion.

The U.S. has insisted that Japan first reach an accord with local governments before making any proposals for a new relocation site.

Meanwhile, Hatoyama also faces rising criticism within the ruling coalition, with members of the Social Democratic Party expressing concern over the lack of developments.

"It is not favorable that (extension of the May deadline) is becoming likely," SDP Secretary General Yasumasa Shigeno said Thursday.

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The Japan Times

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