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Japan searches for US base row compromise

Last Updated: Friday, March 26, 2010 - 14:41

Tokyo: Japan`s centre-left government on Friday scrambled to work out a compromise in a festering row over a controversial US military base, days before the country`s foreign minister heads to Washington.
Tokyo has struggled for months to find a solution that will satisfy the people of Okinawa island, who have long chafed under a heavy US military presence, and the security demands of its key ally the United States.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama`s cabinet stepped up efforts to sell their latest proposal, with the defence minister holding talks in Okinawa while the foreign minister met with US Ambassador John Roos.

The dispute centres on the government`s review of a 2006 agreement to relocate the controversial US Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from a crowded urban area to a quieter coastal part of the southern island.

Hatoyama, who took office half a year ago, has said the Futenma base may instead be moved off the island or even outside Japan, as demanded by his left-leaning coalition partners and to the chagrin of Washington.

Under a new compromise plan floated days before Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada is expected to meet US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Washington, the Futenma operations would be split across several locations.

As a sweetener for Okinawans, the reluctant hosts of the majority of the US bases in Japan, some military drill operations could be temporarily moved to another island, under the government`s reported plans.

Hatoyama, who has been criticised for indecisiveness over the row, said: "The government is strongly determined to gain the understanding of the people of Okinawa, the people of Japan, and the United States."

He pledged again to stick to a self-imposed deadline to resolve the dispute, promising: "I will solve this issue for sure by the end of May."

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, March 26, 2010 - 14:41

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