Japan's government hailed a breakthrough yesterday on a historic plan to realign US forces as the leader of Okinawa, which hosts most US troops in the country, warmed to the deal.
The plan approved by Tokyo and Washington would pull 8,000 of the 20,000 US troops out of Okinawa, but it has met resistance by residents in the island chain who say it does not go far enough.
During talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other leaders in Tokyo, Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine signed an agreement to continue talks between the central and local governments.
The Tokyo government claimed victory as it said talks would be held on the basis of the current government plan.
"After candid talks we have been able to sign an agreement. Together with Okinawa prefecture and relevant cities we would like to realize the relocation plan," said a smiling Fukushiro Nukaga, chief of Japan's Defense Agency.
The Yomiuri Shimbun in its evening edition said Koizumi's government believed that under-pressure Inamine had given his de facto green light to letting the Cabinet move ahead.
But Inamine denied he was shifting from his previous staunch opposition to the plan.
"There is no change in the prefecture's stance," Inamine told reporters.
"As the central government is prepared to talk with us sincerely, I will keep expressing Okinawans' requests so our hopes can be realized," he said.
The US and Japan approved the military plan on May 1 after months of protracted negotiations about the cost.