New organ in works to handle SOFA revision powwows

Kyodo

Japan would be represented at the new venue by the foreign and defense ministers and the governors of the 14 base-hosting prefectures. The United States would be represented by the ambassador to Japan, the sources said.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will seek an agreement with U.S. President Barack Obama on the key issues, including when the organ should be set up, when he visits Washington later this month or in early May, they said.

The envisioned organ will handle sensitive bilateral issues, such as whether the SOFA clauses on jurisdiction for crimes committed by U.S. military and civilian personnel at U.S. bases should be revised, they said.

Since Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan, many people have complained about noise matters, accidents and crimes.

The sources said the government is hoping that starting talks on revising the SOFA accord within a new body will assuage the dissatisfaction in Okinawa and help break the stalemate over the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a plan local residents have thwarted for well over a decade.

The venue will be modeled after a liaison conference used by the U.S. ambassador and the Japanese foreign and defense ministers and the governors of the base-hosting prefectures, who met for the first time in 2008 but have not met since, they said.

The base-hosting prefectures are demanding a fundamental review of the SOFA clauses, but the two governments have stopped short of going that far and only modified operational implementations of the accord.