TOKYO – Japan's prime minister said Wednesday that he hopes to meet with President Barack Obama next week to offer his proposals on the relocation of a major American military base in Okinawa that has led to a rift between the allies.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said members of his Cabinet are still working on the plans and he may give them to Obama on the side of the 192-nation U.N. conference in Copenhagen next week, though he has not officially asked for a meeting.
"We are facing a difficult situation, but there is a solution," Hatoyama said, without elaborating on planned proposals. "I will make a decision in the end."
The relocation of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa has led to increased tension between the two sides. Washington and Tokyo agreed in 2006 to relocate the base to a site farther north, but Hatoyama put that plan on hold.
High-level talks between Tokyo and Washington, set up only last month to discuss the base relocation, were suspended indefinitely after little progress was made.
Many in Okinawa want the U.S. base closed and its functions moved off the island altogether. They say it poses a threat to the safety of the people who live near it, and have complained of base-related crime and environmental issues.
Hatoyama, who took office in September, has expressed support for moving the base off the island. Japan's previous government agreed with the United States that a new facility would be built in Okinawa.
Some members of Hatoyama's Cabinet have proposed moving Futenma out of the country. But Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa have said it would be difficult to find a site not on the island, and have suggested honoring the current agreement.
To lighten Okinawa's load, Tokyo and Washington have agreed to move about 8,000 Marines from Okinawa to the U.S. territory of Guam by 2014, but the U.S. military says that plan cannot move forward until Futenma's replacement facility is finalized.
Kitazawa, visiting Guam to observe a new site, warned that pushing for a plan that largely deviates the current agreement would hurt trust between the allies.
Nearly 50,000 U.S. troops are deployed across Japan under a post-World War II bilateral security pact.