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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

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New kid on the block: New Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto fields questions from reporters Tuesday at the ministry. KYODO

Nonpolitician status OK: new defense chief


Staff writer

Newly appointed Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto, 71, said Tuesday he believes he can perform his duty even though he is not a lawmaker.

"I'm not concerned at all about this. . . . I hope to gain acceptance by striving to work on Japan's defense," said Morimoto, an expert on security issues and the first private citizen to head the Defense Ministry.

Criticism mounted within the opposition camp over the appointment of a nonelected official to head the nation's defense. But unlike his predecessors in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Cabinet, Yasuo Ichikawa and Naoki Tanaka, who had little experience and knowledge of defense and security issues, Morimoto, who was a professor at Takushoku University's graduate school, is an expert.

Morimoto, who worked as a Foreign Ministry official after serving in the Air Self-Defense Force, is also considered a strong supporter of the Japan-U.S. security alliance. He was an adviser on national security when the Liberal Democratic Party was in power.

Morimoto said it is likely the investigation into the cause of an April crash in Morocco of a U.S. MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft will take time and a formal report may not be released until after the planes are deployed to Japan.

The United States is looking to deploy the Osprey to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa possibly next month. Nearby residents are concerned about the safety of the tilt-rotor aircraft.

"It's desirable if (the U.S.) could provide the results of the investigation before the deployment. But it's possible that will not be the case," he said, adding all possible measures must be taken to ensure the planes can operate safely.

Morimoto told reporters late Monday that he will do his best to uphold the plan to relocate the Futenma base to the Henoko district of Nago farther north on Okinawa Island from its current location in Ginowan.

"I want to realize the relocation to remove the danger. I think the relocation to Henoko in Nago is the best possible option today," he said.

Futenma is often referred to in Okinawa as "the world's most dangerous base" because it is situated in a densely populated area. But the plan to move it to Henoko as agreed to between Tokyo and Washington faces stern opposition in Okinawa, where the people want the base moved out of the prefecture.



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