US, Japan agree to relocate US military base on Okinawa

Tokyo, May 28 (DPA) US President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Friday they agreed to relocate a US military base on the Japanese island of Okinawa despite mounting local opposition.

The two leaders issued a statement following a 20-minute phone call, welcoming the relocation of the Futenma air base to a less densely populated part of Okinawa.

‘They expressed satisfaction with the progress made by the two sides in reaching an operationally viable and politically sustainable plan to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma,’ the White House said.

The agreement represents a major climbdown for Hatoyama, whose Democratic Party of Japan, which came to power last year, had promised to scrap a 2006 deal with the US to relocate Futenma on the island and move the base from Okinawa altogether.

Hatoyama earlier apologised to the islanders for breaking his promise, but is likely to suffer a further loss in popularity over the decision, as well as disaffection within the ruling coalition.

Obama and Hatoyama reiterated their commitment ‘to strengthen cooperation under the US-Japan Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation’, the statement said.

Japan and the US had agreed to the closure of the base in 1996, and in 2006 the then-government reached a deal with Washington similar to the current compromise to move the base to Henoko, a sparsely populated area near the northern city of Nago.

Hatoyama told reporters after speaking with Obama that the president expressed his ‘gratitude that an agreement was made in the two-plus-two’, a bilateral committee on security matters comprising US and Japanese defence and foreign ministers.

The two leaders also condemned the North Korean torpedo attack on a South Korean warship and pledged to cooperate closely with Seoul, including in support of appropriate action by the UN Security Council, the White House said.

‘The president and the prime minister called on North Korea to end its provocative behaviour towards its neighbours and to abide by its commitment to eliminate its nuclear-weapons programme and to fulfill its other international obligations.’