October 22, 2009 05:37:31 GMT
The Kadena Air Base, in Okinawa, Japan
"I don't think we will act simply by accepting what the US tells us, just because the US is saying this, in such a short period of time," Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Thursday.
His remarks came after US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday pressed the Japanese center-left government to quickly proceed with the deal.
Under the 2006 accord, the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Base would be closed and a new US base built in a coastal area of Okinawa by 2014, with about 8,000 Marines transferred off the island to Guam.
The new government in Tokyo that came to power last month has taken a more independent stance towards Washington, saying Japanese people voted against nearly half-century conservatives as they opposed their plans.
"The will of the people of Okinawa and the will of the people of Japan was expressed in the elections," Okada said.
The foreign minister noted that Gates had 'pressed and said Japan and the United States had negotiated this issue for as many as 13 years'.
"But I told him that we, as an opposition party, had opposed the plan for those years," Okada told Tokyo Broadcasting System Television.
He predicted that the issue won't be resolved before US president Barack Obama's scheduled visit in November.
Okinawa hosts more than half of the 47,000 American troops stationed in Japan. Their presence has often caused friction with the local community, especially when American servicemen have committed crimes.
In February 2008, US Marine Tyrone Hadnott was arrested over the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl on the island. The news, reminiscent of a similar case in 1995, jolted the US-Japan alliance.
New Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama advocated reviewing the deal and suggested the base be moved out of Okinawa or even out of Japan.