Genba to seek more changes to SOFA

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba on Saturday told Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima that he intends to push for more changes to a bilateral pact on U.S. military personnel, following a recent agreement that conditionally gives Japan more jurisdiction over crimes involving nonmilitary personnel at U.S. bases.

“We would like to keep making utmost efforts” to persuade the United States to make more changes to the operational implementation of the Status of Forces Agreement, Genba told Nakaima during the visit, acknowledging that the public has strongly criticized Japan’s lack of jurisdiction as unfair.

Genba arrived in the prefectural capital Friday to explain the agreement struck Wednesday with the U.S. and to continue talks on moving a key U.S. base elsewhere in the prefecture.

“We are very grateful that the issue has taken a step forward,” Nakaima said.

But he pressed the central government to make further progress, saying there are strong calls among local residents for the SOFA agreement to be “drastically reviewed.”

Until Wednesday’s agreement, the United States had primary authority to try both military and nonmilitary U.S. personnel suspected of committing crimes while on duty.

Despite the change, however, the two countries confirmed that primary jurisdiction in such cases still rests with the United States.

The central government wants local residents to accept a plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to a new facility to be built in the coastal area of Henoko, Nago, also on Okinawa Island, by emphasizing it will work to ease the base-hosting woes of the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of the U.S. military forces in Japan.

But when Genba asked Nakaima to accept the relocation plan, adding the central government will continue to ask the United States to lessen its military presence in the prefecture, Nakaima said they “have differences of opinion” over the plan and reiterated the prefectural government’s view that the facility should be relocated outside Okinawa.

The relocation plan has been repeatedly confirmed by Tokyo and Washington since it was agreed on in 2006, but has faced strong opposition from local leaders and communities, given that Okinawa has long hosted about 75 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan in terms of land area.

It is Genba’s second visit to the prefecture since he assumed his post in September.