Japan to settle US base row despite political risk

Last Updated: Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 15:26

Tokyo: Japan`s government has told the United States it will decide by May where to relocate a controversial US military base even if it risks breaking up the ruling coalition, Jiji Press reported on Thursday.
State minister Seiji Maehara told the US Ambassador to Japan that Tokyo was currently considering alternative sites for the base, which under a 2006 deal with Washington was to move from an urban area on the island of Okinawa to a coastal region, Jiji said.

But if it failed to come up with a plan by May, it would implement the 2006 accord even if it meant disbanding the coalition, which includes anti-base Socialists, it said.

The message was delivered by Maehara, state minister for Okinawa affairs, to Ambassador John Roos at a meeting in Tokyo in early December, Jiji said, quoting a US government source in Washington.

Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada will visit Washington soon to officially inform the US government about the plan, Maehara reportedly told Roos.

Last week, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said it would not be practical to shift the whole air base, which has been the subject of friction between Tokyo and Washington, from Okinawa to the US Pacific territory of Guam.

Hatoyama`s comments drew the ire of the Socialists, who favour shifting the base out of the country and have threatened to leave the coalition over the dispute.

Hatoyama took power in September at the head of a three-member coalition following his party`s landslide victory in August elections in the lower house of parliament which ended half a century of conservative rule.

But Hatoyama`s Democratic Party of Japan still needs votes from Socialists and another junior coalition partner to command a majority in the upper house of parliament.

The 2006 accord was part of a broader realignment of US forces in Japan and includes the redeployment of around 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

Soon after coming to power, Hatoyama`s centre-left government announced a review of the agreement, provoking irritation in Washington, which has long guaranteed security for Japan.

The United States, which defeated Japan in World War II and then occupied the country, now has 47,000 troops stationed there, more than half of them on Okinawa, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, December 31, 2009 - 15:26

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