TOKYO — Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama suggested Thursday that he would give up the idea of meeting one on one with U.S. President Barack Obama in Copenhagen next week to discuss the relocation issue of a Marine Corps airfield in Okinawa, after Washington shunned the Japanese leader’s overtures.
Hatoyama also indicated that conveying his government’s policy on the issue to Washington may not be possible by Dec. 18 as planned, saying that Tokyo now plans to fix its policy by the end of the month.
In Guam, meanwhile, Gov. Felix Camacho expressed a negative view Wednesday about relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the U.S. territory in the Pacific, while Tokyo explores an alternative to the base’s planned relocation within Okinawa to reduce base-hosting burdens on the local people.
While the United States is urging Japan to stick to the bilaterally agreed relocation plan, Congress agreed not to significantly cut the budget for a related realignment plan.
Since the Hatoyama government came to power in September with its idea of moving Futenma out of Okinawa or abroad, it has sought to review a 2006 relocation accord with Washington.
Under the broad bilateral agreement on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, Futenma’s flight functions are to be relocated to a new facility to be built in a less crowded part of Okinawa, and 8,000 Marines will be transferred from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs cast doubts on the possibility of a Hatoyama-Obama meeting on Dec. 18 on the sidelines of the ongoing global climate conference in Copenhagen, saying the two leaders met just last month in Tokyo.
“In terms of making progress, I think this was discussed just a couple weeks ago, and I think the working group, we would believe, is the best way to continue that progress,” Gibbs told reporters, referring to a high-level working group the two countries set up in November over the issue. The group has suspended talks recently.
In Indonesia, Hatoyama said he too would find it difficult to hold a summit, citing time constraints. “There will be very big discussions about climate change [in Copenhagen], and I share the view that much of the time would be spent on it,” he told reporters. “So it’s not such an easy thing to [meet bilaterally with Obama].”
On the likelihood of missing the self-imposed Dec. 18 deadline on relaying Japan’s policy to Washington, the prime minister said, “We’ve been meaning to decide what policy we should embrace by the end of the year.”
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano corroborated Hatoyama’s intention, telling reporters in Tokyo on Thursday, “I imagine he has strong feelings about [deciding on] the policy of approaching the issue by the end of the year.”
Hirano suggested separately that the working group whose discussions have been suspended may resume talks with a new mission once the Japanese government decides on how it should approach the Futenma issue.
“There may be working-level consultations with slight changes in content,” Hirano said at a news conference, noting that the suspended talks, in which the Japanese foreign and defense ministers and U.S. Ambassador John Roos have participated, were merely to “review” the Futenma relocation deal.
In Guam, Camacho said after talks with visiting Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa that it would be difficult to relocate Futenma to the Pacific island.
“We are already challenged with the present numbers of the relocation of 8,000 Marines, and moving the entire Futenma base would not be possible due to our limited resources and capacity,” he said, according to a news release from his office.
In a separate development Wednesday, the U.S. House and Senate agreed to earmark about $300 million in spending for the Marines’ Guam relocation from Okinawa after restoring a substantial part of a fiscal 2010 budget bill that had been cut, congressional sources said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had warned in October that if the Futenma relocation is not followed through, Congress would not approve the allocation.
During his three-day visit to Guam, Kitazawa said it would be difficult to implement the base relocation to Guam as proposed by the Social Democratic Party, which has threatened to leave the coalition government if Hatoyama sticks to relocation within Okinawa.
The SDP has reacted sharply to Kitazawa’s remark, prompting Hatoyama to say he intends to hear from the defense chief about his intentions Friday.
The prime minister will apparently brief the leaders of the SDP and the People’s New Party, the other junior partner of his Democratic Party of Japan, on the matter when they meet Friday mogjt.
Kitazawa visited the Pacific island this week to survey a U.S. Air Force base, which will host the 8,000 Marines to be moved from Okinawa, and meet with local officials.
In Guam, Japanese-financed projects are under way to build facilities and other infrastructure to host the Marines and their roughly 9,000 dependents. Worries about a lack of capacity have risen, however.