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U.S. ready to discuss special bilateral environment pact

Date Posted: 2009-11-12

Senior U.S. officials have agreed to establishing a special bilateral pact with Japan that would focus on environmental damages on American military bases.

Okinawa’s Governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, and Shigefumi Matsuzawa, the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, obtained the concession in talks with senior American Defense and State Department officials during a just-concluded Washington visit. “We have won a full understanding that our proposed special environmental pact will contribute to strengthening the foundation of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” says Matsuzawa.

Matsuzawa, appearing at a Washington news conference with Nakaima, said the pact is a “first step” in the Democratic Party of Japan’s goal of revamping the bilateral Status of Forces Agreement that governs both military operations and legal arrangements for the U.S. military in Japan. Commonly called the SOFA, the pact spells out details of which government has which rights and responsibilities on a wide range of issues.

The U.S. has been reluctant to address the military and personnel legalities covered by the SOFA, but Wallace Gregson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia and the Pacific, has said the U.S. is willing to address environmental issues. Gregson, the former Marine three-star general commanding all troops in Okinawa, says the U.S. Joint Committee is the ideal forum for the discussions, since it specifically deals with SOFA-related matters.

The primary Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, in a separate meeting with Nakaima and Matsuzawa, echoed the call for studying and discussing environmental issues. Joseph Donovan says it wants to “be good neighbors” in Japan and confirmed the U.S. is willing to improve on how environmental issues are handled. Matsuzawa and Nakaima say its their understanding the two countries will “promptly” begin environmental pact talks, since both countries are in agreement.

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