The United States has demanded that Japan allow American officials to be present when U.S. servicemen suspected of committing crimes here are questioned by Japanese investigators prior to indictment.
The demand was made during the second and final day of talks in Tokyo over jurisdiction procedures under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, a Foreign Ministry official said.
“(The two sides) discussed issues, including (their respective) interpretation of the right of U.S. officials to be present during questioning by Japanese authorities and their right to interview suspects,” the official said.
Japan replied that SOFA, which governs U.S. military activities in this country, does not grant such rights to U.S. servicemen based in Japan.
Article 17 of the Japan-U.S. SOFA grants suspects the right to a lawyer and an interpreter after Japanese authorities indict them but not during preindictment questioning.
The official would not comment on a report in the Thursday edition of the Asahi Shimbun that the U.S. delegates, led by Mary Tighe, the U.S. Defense Department’s principal director for Asian and Pacific affairs, indicated that the U.S. may refuse to hand over suspects to Japanese authorities before indictment if the two countries fail to reach an accord on its request.
But the official also said it is “unthinkable” that the U.S. would nullify a 1995 agreement in which Washington agreed to give “sympathetic consideration” to handing over suspects in heinous crimes, such as murder and rape cases, prior to indictment.
The official would not give further details of the talks, in which Yasumasa Nagamine, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director general of North American Affairs Bureau, and officials from the Justice Ministry and the National Police Agency, represented Japan.
The two sides are expected to hold another meeting by late next week in Washington and hope to reach an agreement by the end of this month, the official said.
The negotiations were triggered by a recent case in which a U.S. Marine Corps officer was arrested and handed over to Japanese authorities for allegedly raping and assaulting a woman in Okinawa Prefecture in May.
The U.S. has demanded that a lawyer and an interpreter be present when its military servicemen are questioned by Japanese investigators before indictment, according to Japanese officials.
Japan and the U.S. agreed to discuss other issues related to SOFA, such as Tokyo’s requests for expanding the scope of criminal acts for which U.S. servicemen can be handed over to Japanese authorities before indictment, in a separate bilateral committee on criminal procedures.
In a related move, the House of Representatives special committee on Okinawa adopted a resolution urging the government to consider reviewing SOFA soon and do its utmost to eradicate crimes by U.S. military personnel.
“Although the U.S. military claims it is doing its utmost to prevent a recurrence, it does not seem to be effective, given the recent rise in the number of crimes by military personnel,” the committee said in the resolution.
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