U.S. ambassador to explain Japanese public military base move

The U.S. ambassador to Japan promised on Tuesday to seek public understanding of unpopular plans to construct a U.S. military heliport on Okinawa, but said the basic plan for the project will not change.

The agreement to close a U.S. Marine air station and build a heliport on another U.S. base on the southern Japanese island came last month after years of Washington-Tokyo discussions.

But the plan has triggered protests by critics who oppose any further military building on the island. Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine has told the central government that the plan is unacceptable.

"There are continuing talks on how it will be implemented, but I don't think we are going to revisit the agreement per se," U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer said after meeting Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe.

"But we do have to take into consideration local citizens, and do our best to reach an understanding with them," he said.

Last month, Japan and the United States reached a broad agreement on strengthening military cooperation that reduces the number of U.S. Marines in Okinawa, and gives Tokyo greater responsibility for security in the Pacific.

In the run-up to that accord, the two sides agreed to close the U.S. Futenma Marine Corps Air Station on Okinawa and move its functions to another base on the island, Camp Schwab.

The plan requires building a new heliport at Camp Schwab, part of it on fresh landfill offshore. Opponents say the project will damage a coral reef.

Japan's central government, which is sensitive to Okinawans' concerns following a series of high-profile accidents and crimes linked to U.S. forces based on the island, has the final say on the proposed move.

Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island prefecture (state) about 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) southwest of Tokyo, hosts nearly half of about 50,000 U.S. servicemen in Japan. I.L.

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