Tokyo: Japan's Foreign Minister said on Sunday that no deal on relocating US troops on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa can be expected during President Barack Obama's visit this week, saying the issue needs more time to resolve.
Obama is scheduled to arrive Friday, and a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is on the agenda. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Sunday on TV Asahi that "an agreement between the heads of state holds heavy meaning," but cannot be expected to be finalized during Obama's visit.
Washington and Tokyo agreed in 2006 that the Marine airfield in Futenma, a crowded city on Okinawa, would be relocated to another part of the island. But Japan's government changed in August elections, and Okinawans have pushed to move the base off the island entirely.
The new administration is pushing for a slightly more assertive Japan, and Hatoyama has said he wants to resolve the base issue more democratically than previous governments and that he wants to win the support of Okinawa.
Okinawa residents have long been concerned about base-related crime, noise and environmental damage.
The United States has about 47,000 troops in Japan under a half-century-old security pact, more than half on Okinawa.
Okada said the government was looking at other options for Futenma base, including expanding Kadena Air Base on another part of Okinawa, or moving the base to the island of Iwo Jima.
"Options are being studied," he said, while refusing to comment on what the government might do if they don't pan out. "If we rush to a conclusion, and that can't be realized, that would be an even bigger problem."
First Published: Sunday, November 08, 2009, 11:08