US Marine base to stay on Okinawa

Bloomberg News / March 3, 2010

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TOKYO - Japan’s government will keep a US military base on Okinawa, meeting the demands of the Obama administration, even if that means alienating a coalition partner and local people, a vice defense minister said.

Okinawan residents, who want the Marine base moved off the island, will be offered compensation in return for accepting the government’s decision, Akihisa Nagashima, said in an interview in Tokyo yesterday, without elaborating. His remarks are the most definitive by a member of the government indicating that Japan will keep the facility on Okinawa.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has set a May deadline for settling a dispute that has overshadowed the 50th anniversary of the US-Japan security treaty. Almost 50,000 US military personnel are stationed in Japan, more than half living on Okinawa, 950 miles south of Tokyo.

Any solution “must be operationally doable to the US,’’ said Nagashima, 48, a lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party of Japan. In regard to the coalition, “the question is whether we get a divorce and go our separate ways or find a political compromise,’’ he said.

President Obama has pushed Japan to honor a 2006 agreement signed by a previous government to move the Futenma air base within Okinawa despite local complaints of pollution, crime, and noise. Hatoyama ousted the Liberal Democratic Party in August and campaigned on scrapping the accord, part of a $10.3 billion plan that would also relocate 8,000 Marines to the US territory of Guam.

Japan’s Social Democratic Party has threatened to quit the coalition unless the base is moved off Okinawa. Nagashima said the government’s minority partner, which has 12 lawmakers, must be realistic. Asked whether that meant the Social Democrats would have to accept this solution, he said, “Right.’’