• JIJI, KYODO

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Japan will propose a provisional one-year deal on a cost-sharing agreement for hosting U.S. troops, Japanese government officials have said, with Washington expected to pressure Tokyo to significantly increase its contribution.

Tokyo and Washington are expected to start working-level talks on the deal as early as next week, with their current five-year agreement is set to expire at the end of next March, officials said Friday.

The two countries usually conclude five-year agreements.

But this time, Tokyo will propose a provisional one-year deal because there is not enough time to negotiate with the United States, which is set to have a presidential election in November, the officials added.

The Japanese government needs to reach a conclusion on the amount of its host-nation support, at least for fiscal 2021, by year's end, when it will draw up a draft state budget for the year starting next April.

With Republican incumbent Donald Trump trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in the polls, the countries may opt to sign a tentative one-year deal instead of the usual five-year arrangement, the sources said.

The working-level talks are slated to begin after a meeting of Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and their Australian and Indian counterparts is held Tuesday in Tokyo.

Due to travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the negotiations for the agreement will likely take place online.

Around 54,000 American troops are stationed in Japan under a 1960 security treaty, allowing them to respond quickly to contingencies in a region where China is increasing its military clout and North Korea is developing nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

They are obligated to protect Japan from threats together with the country's Self-Defense Forces, and in return Tokyo shoulders about ¥200 billion ($1.9 billion) annually including on-base utility fees, civilian labor costs and expenses related to relocating military drills.

Trump has criticized the alliance as one-sided, saying in June 2018 that "if Japan is attacked, we will fight World War III … but if we're attacked, Japan doesn't have to help us at all. They can watch it on a Sony television." According to a book published earlier this year by John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, the president has asked Japan to quadruple its contribution to $8 billion annually.

That would largely be in line with U.S. negotiations with South Korea in which Washington has demanded a more than fivefold increase in host-nation support. The countries began talks for a new agreement on base cost-sharing in September last year and have yet to reach a deal.

Faced with rising social security costs and saddled with the worst fiscal health among major economies, Japan hopes to avoid such demands by convincing the United States that it is contributing in other areas, including paying some of the cost to relocate about 4,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa Prefecture to Guam.

The negotiations will be an early test for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who as his predecessor Shinzo Abe's chief Cabinet secretary was responsible for coordinating domestic policy but is thought to be inexperienced in foreign policy and defense matters.

Meanwhile, Tokyo expects that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would be more flexible about the issue if elected.

"How we'll negotiate would be totally different depending on which candidate will win," a Japanese government source said, expressing a wish to ink a one-year deal quickly and wait and see the outcome of the U.S. election.

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