March 24, 2010 / 7:28 PM / 9 years ago

U.S. "optimistic" on Japan base decision: military

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top U.S. military commander said Wednesday he was optimistic Japan would soon agree to the planned relocation of a U.S. airbase, a dispute that has strained U.S.-Japan ties.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of U.S. Pacific Command, told lawmakers he believed Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama would stick to a 2006 accord that included shifting the Marines’ Futenma airbase to a less crowded spot on Japan’s Okinawa island.

“We are optimistic that the government of Japan will fully reaffirm the 2006 (government of Japan)-U.S. agreement by May 2010,” Willard said in testimony on Capitol Hill.

During the campaign that swept his party to power last year, Hatoyama raised hopes Futenma could be moved off the southern island, host to the bulk of America’s 47,000 military personnel.

But there is still no sign of a feasible alternative ahead of Hatoyama’s self-imposed May deadline to resolve the matter.

Willard also said he thought the Japanese government understood the time pressure and would stick to the timetable.

“There is a level of urgency in getting Futenma resolved,” Willard told reporters after a congressional hearing on military construction in the Pacific command. Moving the base elsewhere on Okinawa is a critical element of the Pentagon’s plan to relocate of 8,000 Marines to Guam, Willard said.

“We’re very anxious to hear what the government (of Japan) thinks.”

A poll published in the Sankei newspaper Tuesday showed nearly half of those who responded said Hatoyama should quit if he fails to resolve the airbase row.

More than 73 percent of voters polled by the Sankei said they were unhappy with his management of the problem, while nearly 85 percent of respondents said they were unimpressed with Hatoyama’s leadership skills overall.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell, Editing by Stacey Joyce

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