Japan, U.S. agree on base plan but hurdles ahead: report

TOKYO (BestGrowthStock) – Japan and the United States agreed on Saturday on a plan to relocate a controversial U.S. airbase on Okinawa, broadcaster NHK said, but the deal faces resistance from local residents and the government’s coalition allies.

The deal comes one day before Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama travels to the southern Japanese island, host to about half the U.S. forces in the country, to plead for local understanding.

The row over the Marines’ Futenma airbase in southern Japan has been a factor behind sliding support for Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, threatening his party’s chances in a mid-year upper house election that it must win to avoid policy deadlock.

During the campaign that swept his party to power last year, Hatoyama had raised hopes that the base could be moved off Okinawa, but Washington has sought to stick to a 2006 deal to move the facility inside the island.

Hatoyama later shifted gears, saying some Marines had to stay to deter threats.

“I have tried hard to ease the burden of Okinawa even a little,” Hatoyama said in a message broadcast to supporters in his home constituency in northern Japan. “But I must ask the people of Okinawa to bear the burden for a while longer.”

Japan and the United States agreed at talks between Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and U.S. ambassador John Roos to an outline of a plan that is not much different from an original plan which called for the base to be shifted to the less crowded city of Nago, NHK said.

A new runway would still be built on Nago’s coast near an existing U.S. base, but a decision on the exact location and construction method would be left until autumn, ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Japan.

The two sides also agreed to consider moving some functions of the base to areas outside Okinawa, NHK added.

Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine, elected in January on an anti-base platform, immediately rejected the plan. “The possibility of implementing this … is zero,” he told reporters.

The plan is also likely to face criticism from Hatoyama’s coalition partners, who have called for more consensus on the issue.

Voters have been unhappy with Hatoyama’s handling of the dispute, boding ill for his Democratic Party ahead of an election for parliament’s upper house expected on July 11.

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(Reporting by Chisa Fujioka and Linda Sieg; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

Japan, U.S. agree on base plan but hurdles ahead: report