Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama said Friday it is difficult to agree to Washington’s request for a U.S. government official to be present during police interrogations of U.S. military personnel accused of crimes in Japan.

Moriyama told a news conference the Justice Ministry takes the position that Japan has no obligation under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement to allow a U.S. official to be present at such interrogations.

Moriyama made the remarks in connection with ongoing negotiations between Japanese and U.S. officials over a re-evaluation of criminal procedures for U.S. military personnel.

Moriyama said a U.S. official’s presence during police interrogations may be a problem from the viewpoint that Japan and the United States should respect each other’s positions and deal with each other on an equal footing.

In the negotiations in Tokyo, the U.S. is believed to have called for improving the rights of accused U.S. military personnel.

The talks come after a U.S. Marine was arrested for allegedly raping a woman in May in Okinawa.

SOFA governs the management and operation of U.S. forces in Japan. The U.S. military has no obligation under the accord to hand over to Japanese authorities service members suspected of crimes committed in Japan until they are indicted.

But after three U.S. servicemen was convicted of gang-raping an Okinawa girl in 1995, the U.S. military agreed to give “sympathetic consideration” to the handover of suspects, before charges are filed, in serious crimes such as murder and rape.

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