U.S. agrees to relocate its base on Okinawa

The United States accepted a Japanese proposal for the relocation of a U.S. air station on Okinawa on Wednesday, resolving a dispute that had blocked progress on military realignment talks and caused friction between the two countries.

The plan, which scuttles a U.S.-favored proposal to construct a heliport on a coral reef, will move the functions of Marine Corps Air Station, Futenma from a congested city to inside another American base on the island.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura also said that upcoming broader talks on the realignment of the U.S. military in Japan would lead to the reduction of thousands of the 14,600 American Marines on Okinawa.

The agreement to relocate the Futenma base was welcomed by both sides.

"The plan we have accepted today ... provides a comprehensive, capable and executable solution for the replacement of Futenma in an expeditious and complete manner," U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless said at the American Embassy.

Japanese officials said the deal resolved what had been turning into a tense standoff over the relocation of the base. The plan to build a new heliport on reclaimed land had faced stiff opposition from environmentalists.

Wednesday's deal lifted the main stumbling block to an agreement on the realignment of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan. An interim agreement on realignment is to be released in Washington during U.S.-Japan talks on Saturday.

Washington and Tokyo agreed nearly 10 years ago to move the Futenma air station to a less crowded location on Okinawa as part of an overall plan to reduce the burden of the U.S. military presence on the tiny island, the AP reports.


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