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Minister blames media over failure to send SDF to US base in Okinawa after aircraft trouble

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya (Mainichi/Akinori Miyamoto)

TOKYO -- Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya blamed the media for the Japanese government's failure to immediately dispatch Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel to a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa Prefecture following a spate of trouble involving choppers belonging to the base in January.

"I think news reports played a role," Iwaya told a press conference on Nov. 9, referring to the fact that the government has yet to dispatch SDF officials to U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the southernmost prefecture despite its earlier request to the United States.

The minister's comment sparked sharp reactions from reporters, who called for further explanations on the matter. In response, Iwaya backed off and stated, "It wasn't that I was laying the blame solely on the media."

In Okinawa, there were three emergency landings involving U.S. military aircraft in January. Then Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a House of Representatives Budget Committee session on Jan. 29, "We will confirm and verify the U.S. military's inspections and maintenance by utilizing the SDF's expertise and technical knowledge." He announced the following day that the Japanese government would send SDF personnel to the base.

However, while SDF officials were scheduled to arrive at the Futenma airfield on Feb. 1, the U.S. called for delaying the schedule that very day. The dispatch plan has since remained in limbo.

At the press conference following a Cabinet meeting on Nov. 9, Defense Minister Iwaya stated, "The Defense Ministry never said it will 'conduct an inspection' (at the base), but there were some reports stating so," hinting at the possibility that those news reports drew the U.S. backlash.

After he assumed his post in early October, Iwaya instructed officials to coordinate toward the dispatch of SDF officials to the base. On Nov. 8, officials from the SDF and U.S. forces held an expert meeting in Tokyo to discuss flight safety -- the first gathering of its kind ever -- but they ended up exchanging general opinions. Japanese attendants stopped short of requesting U.S. forces to allow SDF personnel to enter the premises of the Futenma base.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Maetani, City News Department)

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