Japan sets May deadline to resolve US base dispute


TOKYO (AP) — Japan aims to resolve a dispute with the United States over the relocation of an American military base on the southern island of Okinawa by May, the defense minister said Tuesday.

While setting May as the deadline, Defense Minister Toshifumi Kitazawa insisted Tokyo hopes to settle the issue as quickly as possible.

The relocation of the U.S. military base on Okinawa is at the center of a growing dispute between Japan and the United States. Under a 2006 plan, the U.S. base was to be moved to a less crowded part of northern Okinawa.

Washington wants Tokyo to stick to the 2006 agreement and hopes for a resolution on the relocation issue by the end of this year.

But Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama recently postponed a decision for several more months, stopping short of setting a deadline.

Hatoyama has suggested the relocation site could be changed — perhaps even to a site off Okinawa.

The 2006 relocation plan, made under the previous conservative Japanese government, was aimed at lightening the load on Okinawa, which hosts more than half the 47,000 U.S. troops in Japan under a security pact.

Part of the plan involved moving 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.

Hatoyama, whose party came to power after a landslide election in August, has promised that Japan would adopt a less subservient relationship with the United States.

But the premier has stressed that the U.S. security alliance is still the cornerstone of Japan’s diplomacy.