• Kyodo

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U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter may visit Japan early next month as the two countries aim to conclude a pact to narrow the scope of U.S. military base workers provided limited legal immunity under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), according to a Japanese source.

The two countries are trying to arrange the visit to discuss the pact and a number of other security issues before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has been critical of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, the government source said.

Other issues to be discussed include Japan’s request to return before the end of the year some of the land used by the U.S. forces for the Northern Training Area in Okinawa Prefecture, the source said.

Carter is expected to meet with Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, where they are likely to re-affirm close cooperation in dealing with China’s military expansion in the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile development, the source added.

They are also likely to exchange opinions on Trump’s remarks demanding Japan shoulder more of the financial burden of hosting U.S. forces, the source said.

The envisioned pact on base workers is aimed at assuaging anti-U.S. base sentiment in Okinawa triggered by the arrest of a civilian base worker in April for the murder of a local woman.

The deal will supplement SOFA, under which U.S. base workers classified as the “civilian component” and U.S. military personnel are entitled to U.S. primary jurisdiction if accused of a crime while on duty in Japan.

The supplementary pact is expected to exclude from the “civilian component” category civilian base contractors without a high degree of skills or knowledge and place them under Japanese jurisdiction, Japanese sources said earlier.

It would likely exclude the U.S. base contractor, Kenneth Franklin Shinzato, who is to be tried for the murder of a 20-year-old woman while working for an internet firm at Kadena Air Base.

The government of Okinawa, where the bulk of U.S. bases are concentrated, has said the definition of “civilian component” is unclear.

Responding to the public outrage in Okinawa sparked by the murder case, the Japanese and U.S. governments said in July they had agreed to group U.S. base civilian personnel into four categories: Civilians paid by the U.S. government to work for the U.S. military in Japan; civilians working on U.S. military-operated vessels and aircraft; U.S. government employees staying in Japan for official purposes related to the military; and technical advisers and consultants staying in Japan at the invitation of the military.

As of March this year, there were about 7,000 U.S. civilian workers at U.S. military bases nationwide, U.S. officials said.

At a working-level meeting in September, the two governments agreed to sign the supplementary pact before President Barack Obama leaves office in January, the sources said.

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