Hatoyama Seeks U.S. Base Solution After Disappointing Okinawa

Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama huddled with advisers in search of a solution to a dispute over U.S. troop deployments in Okinawa, Kyodo News reported.

Hatoyama met for two hours today with Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano as well as defense and foreign ministry officials, Kyodo said. Calls to the Cabinet office went unanswered because of a public holiday.

Public support for Hatoyama has plummeted because of his inability to resolve the dispute, prompting calls within the ruling party for him to come up with a solution or step down. The issue has clouded the 50th anniversary of Japan’s security alliance with the U.S. and tarnished their relations.

Hatoyama yesterday visited Okinawa and acknowledged for the first time that a relocation plan for the Marine Air Base at Futenma will have to include alternative sites on the island.

The U.S. and Japan, under the previous Liberal Democratic Party administration, agreed to move the base within Okinawa as part of a $10.3 billion plan that would also see 8,000 Marines depart the island for Guam. Hatoyama campaigned for last year’s election on shifting the camp off the island, which hosts 75 percent of U.S. military facilities and more than half of the 50,000 American troops stationed in Japan.

Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima told Hatoyama in a meeting yesterday that his constituents were united in their opposition to relocating the base to a less crowded part of the island. More than 90,000 Okinawans rallied on April 25 to demand another part of Japan shoulder the defense burden, citing concerns of pollution, crime and noise.

May Deadline

Hatoyama has pledged to settle the dispute with the U.S. by the end of May, having missed his original year-end target. He suggested last month he may step down should he fail. The Social Democratic Party has threatened to quit Hatoyama’s coalition unless the base is moved off Okinawa, ahead of an upper-house election set for July.

The U.S. said it held working-level discussions yesterday at Japan’s Defense Ministry and supports a “politically sustainable” solution to the dispute.

“As always we value our alliance with Japan. We understand that this alliance provides both benefit to the American people and to the Japanese people,” U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington yesterday. “It also levies a burden on the American people and the Japanese people, so we do recognize this, it’s one of the reasons why we’ve been involved in an intensive and lengthy process to evaluate the best way to maintain operations that are important and viable.”

Japan’s government has been working on a compromise proposal that would shift some of Futenma’s role to Tokunoshima, triggering protests from that island’s 26,000 residents. Hatoyama is set to meet with Tokunoshima officials on May 7 in Tokyo.

The approval rating for Hatoyama’s cabinet fell 12.3 percentage points to 20.7 percent, according to a Kyodo survey conducted April 28 and 29. More than half of respondents said Hatoyama should resign unless he resolves the Futenma issue by the end of this month.

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