Central government to talk SOFA changes

Heeding calls from Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima to revamp the legal pacts between Japan and the United States, Japan’s defense minister has stepped forward with plans to seek U.S. concurrence.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, seemingly falling in line with an informal series of Tokyo moves to gain favor with Okinawa’s governor, who must approve land reclamation in order for the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station project to move forward, wants to begin talks with the U.S. on revising the Status of Forces Agreement.  In the past, the U.S. has been uneasy about making changes to the long-standing pact.

“The United States has not agreed to and will not consider opening the SOFA to renegotiation,” was how U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf explained the American position a few weeks ago.  Onodera says “it is necessary” to conduct talks with the U.S., and not push the issues down the road, noting the strong opposition Okinawa and Okinawans have been voicing to the continued stationing of U.S. troops in the prefecture, the continued use of Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan, as well as the deployment of MV-22 Ospreys to the island.

Governor Nakaima says the SOFA changes are necessary to ease the burdens of having tens of thousands of troops on Okinawa.  Onodera adds that the current treaty has “a strong sense of inequality” about it.

Onodera hasn’t said exactly how he’d like to see the SOFA changed, but an often cited issue in the media is revamping the agreement to put teeth into the existing agreement on how Americans are dealt with when committing crimes off base.  A new clause in the agreement is being sought to address environmental issues.