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DPJ wants major changes to SOFA environmental rules

Date Posted: 2009-09-04

Teams of Democratic Party of Japan staff members, still euphoric over Sunday’s landslide victory over Japan’s ruling party in the House of Representatives election, is now crafting proposed changes to the Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and Japan.

The DPJ wants to revise the SOFA to include a new clause that would permit both the central Japanese government and local governments to conduct on-site environmental inspections on the U.S. bases in Japan. The new clause would also require the U.S. to restore the land to its original environmental state. DPJ officials say its leader, Yukio Hatoyama, will present the change during a bilateral summit expected in New York on September 23rd.

The DPJ will encourage the U.S. to accept its proposed change, citing the SOFA in place between the U.S. and South Korea. The DPJ Policy Research Committee’s deputy chairman, Tetsuro Fukuyama, says the U.S.-Japan SOFA has not been revised, although environmental problems and soil contamination has taken place on American bases. Okinawa, which has encountered such problems, has called for SOFA changes after finding contamination at sites being returned by the U.S.

Environmental issues have caused some consternation in South Korea, where the U.S. began turning back bases five years ago. The U.S. cited SOFA terms that remediation was to be made to standards in effect when the land was accepted for American bases, and not with the newer, higher standards. After lengthy arguments and negotiations, the Korean government accepted the 25 bases as remediated and treated to the earlier standards.

In Japan’s case, one Foreign Ministry official suggests the situation could be different, suggesting that U.S. President Barack Obama’s emphasis on the environment could lead the U.S. to agree to the clause. The DPJ clause would make U.S. forces restore the environment following any changes caused by American training or military exercises. Under the current SOFA, Japanese authorities are prohibited from entering bases to conduct such on-site inspections.

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