TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said Saturday that he would not immediately ask the Okinawan authorities for approval to begin constructing a long-stalled American air base, casting doubt on his government's hopes to show progress in a troubled base-relocation plan ahead of his planned trip to Washington later this month.
In a meeting on Okinawa, Mr. Abe told the Okinawan governor, Hidekazu Nakaima, that his government still wanted to go ahead with the plan to relocate the base, the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, to a site in northern Okinawa. However, in an apparent concession to Okinawa opposition, Mr. Abe said he would not ask the governor for a key construction permit before going to the United States, as some in Mr. Abe's government had hoped to do.
The lack of progress in implementing the 17-year-old deal has strained ties between the United States and Japan, its largest Asian ally, at a time when both nations face the challenge of China's rising military might. Mr. Abe, who took office in December with promises to patch up ties with Washington, had apparently hoped to restart the stalled plan ahead of his first meeting with President Obama, now likely to be held on Feb. 20 or 21.
Some members of Mr. Abe's government had hoped to do this by formally asking the Okinawan governor for permission to begin land reclamation, a crucial step toward building the new base near the coastal village of Henoko. But Mr. Abe, after a one-hour meeting on Saturday with the Okinawan governor, said he would not ask for that permission ahead of the summit meeting.
Instead, Mr. Abe seemed to strike a more pragmatic tone, saying that he would work to regain Okinawan trust in the central government, which he said had been damaged when the previous prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, reneged on his promises four years ago to relocate the base off the island. The governor, Mr. Nakaima, said that he still urged Mr. Abe to move the base off the island, citing the depth of local opposition.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.