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Nakaima presses SOFA changes during U.S. visit

Date Posted: 2009-01-15

Okinwa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima returns to Okinawa today after completing a whirlwind ten-day visit to America during which he lobbied for changes to the Status of Forces Agreement governing American troops here.
Okinawa’s governor was persistent during his talks with Pentagon and State Department officials that revisions are needed to the SOFA, saying informal and verbal agreements to hand over American personnel accused of crimes to Japanese authorities are not enough. He cited 2007 figures that showed only 13% of Americans under SOFA protection were taken to Japanese courts, insisting “We can’t keep operating this way.”
People listened, but offered answers that didn’t go Nakaima’s way. They were sympathetic, but told the governor not to expect changes. Even a meeting with Richard Armitage, a former Deputy Secretary of State, brought bad news. Armitage told Nakaima it would be “extremely difficult” for the SOFA to be changed.
Nakaima began his tenuous stateside trip wary of talking about the problems of relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to northern Okinawa, an issue opposition lawmakers had demanded he stay away from. The Prefecture Assembly, controlled by the opposition, had withheld funding for the governor’s trip for months because they were concerned he would make statements they didn’t agree with. He promised lawmakers “we can delete requests about reorganization problems from my paper,” assuring them “I’m not going to ask anything about reorganization of the American military.”
American media raised the issue throughout his trip, leaving the governor answering their questions about Futenma, fully aware he’ll face the wrath of opposition politicians upon his return. “I had to answer them when questioned,” he explained, and “I just told them I’m asking for the new facility (at Camp Schwab, in the Henoko District near Nago City) be offshore. We want the runway moved a bit farther offshore so local residents’ homes will be safe.”
Nakaima said American officials were quiet when he discussed the Futenma issue. “They look like they don’t want any change,” the governor said, or they said “it has been such a delicate problem that if this plan is moved even only one meter, it will mess up everything.” He noted his feeling was that “this delicate plan should not be touched at all.”
The governor spoke at George Washington University during his visit, telling symposium guests Okinawa bears an unfair “burden” caused by American troops and bases occupying more than 20% of the land on the largest island. He also met with U.S. Senator Daniel Inoue of Hawaii.

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