Japan and the United States are expected to agree soon to U.S. officials being present during interrogations of U.S. military personnel suspected of serious crimes such as murder or rape, negotiation sources said Saturday.

During unofficial talks on revising the criminal procedures for U.S. military personnel in Japan under the Status of Forces Agreement, the U.S. withdrew an initial demand for its presence in the questioning of all arrested U.S. military personnel.

Japan was at first reluctant to allow any U.S. presence during questioning, but compromised on serious cases.

In Japan, the presence of lawyers or other officials is not permitted when police question suspects who have been placed under arrest.

The two sides held official meetings last July and August, but the talks collapsed without an agreement.

The change in the U.S. stance apparently comes from Washington’s judgment that a longer halt to the agreement would adversely affect its relations with Japan, the sources said.

The two governments are expected to resume official negotiations as early as this month and formally agree on a change to SOFA’s implementation.

SOFA governs the operations and management of U.S. forces in Japan. It does not require the U.S. to hand over military suspects alleged to have committed crimes until Japanese prosecutors indict them.

However, the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen in 1995 in Okinawa Prefecture prompted the U.S. to agree to give “sympathetic consideration” to handovers of military personnel suspected of serious crimes.

If formally agreed, it will be the first revision of the implementation of the SOFA since then.

Allowing an exception for U.S. military personnel may meet protest in Okinawa, which hosts a vast majority of the U.S. bases in Japan, the sources said.

Toshimitsu Motegi, minister in charge of Okinawa, told reporters during his visit to Okinawa on Saturday that unofficial talks are “going in the right direction.”

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