Japan will postpone a deadline for resolving a row over relocating a US base by up to half a year to November, abandoning Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's original end-May target, the daily Sankei Shimbun said on Saturday.
The decision will be conveyed to the US side as early as next week, the paper said, while Kyodo news agency reported diplomatic sources saying US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would visit Japan on May 21 to discuss the base issue.
Public perceptions Hatoyama has mishandled the issue over a US Marine base on the southern Japan island of Okinawa have eroded his popularity ahead of an upper house election, with a poll published by Jiji news agency on Friday showing support for his government had fallen below 20 percent for the first time.
Hatoyama's Democratic Party needs a decisive win in the upper house vote expected in July to enact laws smoothly as Japan struggles to keep a recovery on track while reining in massive public debt.
The Sankei Shimbun said, citing unnamed government officials, that the postponement decision was made at a meeting on Friday of cabinet ministers including Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada and Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano as well as Hatoyama.
Analysts have said the next reasonable deadline after the end of May would be November, when US President Barack Obama will visit Japan for an Asia-Pacific leaders summit.
During the campaign that swept his party to power last year, Hatoyama raised hopes the US Marines' Futenma airbase could be shifted off Okinawa, despite a 2006 deal with Washington to move the facility from a crowded city to a less populous site on the island.
But with his self-imposed end of May deadline for settling the feud looming, Hatoyama shifted gears, saying he had come to realise that some Marines must stay on the island to deter threats.
Last month, tens of thousands of Okinawans rallied to demand the premier keep his promise, and activists plan to form a human chain around Futenma airbase on Sunday.