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Friday, May 13, 2011

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Heart of the matter: U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is seen in January at Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture. KYODO PHOTO

Review Futenma: Senators

Three powerful U.S. lawmakers call plan unrealistic, too costly


Staff writer

OSAKA — Three influential U.S. senators called Thursday for a fundamental re-examination of the 2006 agreement between Tokyo and Washington to relocate 8,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam after a replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is built in Okinawa.

"Much has changed since the U.S.-Japan Roadmap for Realignment Implementation agreement was signed in 2006. The projected times [for completion by 2014] are totally unrealistic. Political realities in Okinawa and Guam, as well as the enormous financial burden imposed on Japan by the devastation resulting from the disastrous earthquake and tsunami must also be considered," said Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan and chairman of the Armed Services Committee, in a joint statement with Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Jim Webb.

McCain serves on Levin's committee as the ranking minority member, while Webb is chairman of the Senate Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs and once served in Okinawa as a U.S. Marine.

"The present compromise reached between the U.S. and Japan calls for the construction of a partially offshore replacement to the far north of Okinawa at Camp Schwab. The U.S. and Japan seemed determined to pursue this option but it is rife with difficulties," said Webb.

The three senators are suggesting the possibility of moving marines currently stationed at Futenma to the nearby Kadena Air Base, which is used by the U.S. Air Force. They also propose dispersing some of the air force units currently at Kadena to Anderson Air Base in Guam or other locations in Japan.

Levin and Webb visited Okinawa last month to review progress on the Futenma issue, and were told by Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima that he wanted Futenma to be relocated to another part of Japan.

The possibility of relocating Futenma's functions to Kadena is one that several Japanese politicians, including former Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, have floated in the past.

However the marines have long opposed the idea, citing air traffic control issues such as coordinating takeoffs and landings between different kinds of aircraft traveling at different speeds.

Futenma's aircraft include mostly slower propeller planes and helicopters while fighter jets use Kadena. Kadena locals are also strongly opposed to consolidation, citing noise concerns.

Japan standing pat

Kyodo

Japan's stance on the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture remains the same despite the latest alternative offered by influential U.S. senators, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Thursday.

Edano told a news conference that the plan agreed by Tokyo and Washington in May 2010 is "very solid" and that there is no change in Japan's policy to "steadily implement" the relocation of the airbase.

Edano's remarks came after three powerful senators said Wednesday the current plan is "unrealistic" and recommended instead integrating Futenma's functions with an existing U.S. airbase in the prefecture.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said the administration must take the recommendation seriously but noted it was proposed by lawmakers, not by the U.S. government, in view of how U.S. taxes must be spent.

"For us, we have to closely watch the views of the U.S. government which has received the proposal," Kitazawa said.

Sen. Carl Levin said in a joint statement that the relocation plan for the Futenma base is "totally unrealistic."

Japan and the United States concluded the accord on May 28, 2010, to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less densely populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago, also in Okinawa.



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The Japan Times

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