The United States to relocate air station on Okinawa, after accepting a Japanese proposal a U.S. official said Wednesday, resolving a dispute that had blocked progress on military realignment talks and caused friction between the two allies.
Without going into the details of the Japanese proposal, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Richard Lawless said Japan had emphasized it would provide a "comprehensive, capable, and executable solution" of the dispute over the location of the air station.
Japan's defense chief Yoshinori Ono commended the accord.
"It was a very long way ... but we managed to willingly reach an agreement," he said.
Defense Agency officials had no immediate comment.
The details of the agreement were not immediately clear, but Kyodo News agency reported earlier that the U.S. agreed to a Japanese proposal to move the Futenma air station to an existing U.S. base. Public broadcaster NHK and other media had similar reports.
Wednesday's agreement could lift the main stumbling block to an agreement on the realignment of the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan. The dispute had also raised tensions between the United States and its top ally in Asia.
Washington and Tokyo agreed nearly 10 years ago to move the Futenma air station to a less congested location on Okinawa as part of an overall plan to reduce the burden of the U.S. military presence on the tiny island.
The two sides, however, had clashed over where to relocate Futenma's functions. The United States had pushed for a new air station to be built on reclaimed land on Okinawa to take over the role of Futenma.
But Japanese environmentalists and others say the plan would wreck one of the area's last healthy coral reefs, and Japan has instead proposed combining the air station with an existing U.S. base on Okinawa, Camp Schwab.
NHK reported that the U.S. agreed to the Japanese plan, and that Schwab would be extended into the sea with landfill if more space was needed to accommodate the heliport functions now performed at Futenma, reports the AP.
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