WASHINGTON, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Talks between the United States and Japan on the relocation of a Marine base within Japan's Okinawa Prefecture are expected soon, a senior U.S. official said.
The issue over the relocation the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station has dragged on for years. Both sides, which have strong bilateral relations, have been seeking ways to resolve it soon.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said Japan and the United States will continue with efforts to implement an agreed plan to relocate the base within the Okinawa Prefecture despite difficulties, Kyodo News reported.
The plan calls for relocating the base from its current site in a thickly populated city of Ginowan to a quieter coastal location.
Local residents, who do not want the base anywhere on the prefecture, have long complained of noise from the planes and are concerned about risks of accidents and crime. There have been protests on relocating the base within the prefecture.
Talks between the two sides might be held next month, Kyodo reported quoting sources. They will involve officials at the director-general level from Japan's foreign and defense ministries and U.S. State Department and the Pentagon officials.
The Japanese government sent a key environmental impact assessment report to the Okinawa prefectural government in December. The assessment report had said the relocation within the prefecture would not pose any environmental problem and that aircraft noise would be within permissible levels.
The next step in the process would be securing the permission of the prefecture governor to reclaim the waterfront area of Henoko district where the new U.S. military facilities are planned to be built.
A resolution of the base issue will help the United States maintain its commitment to a military presence in Japan. Under the current relocation plan, about 8,000 Marines would be transferred to Guam.