CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima is on a 10-day lobbying swing through the U.S., pushing for changes to the status of forces agreement and reducing the U.S. military footprint on the island.

According to accounts by local reporters traveling with the governor, Nakaima spoke to Pentagon officials last week about changing the SOFA to ensure all servicemembers charged with crimes be immediately turned over to Japanese police.

Under the existing agreement, Japanese police retain custody only if they make an arrest off base. Otherwise, the military retains custody until indictment.

The two countries since 1995 have agreed that personnel accused of "heinous" crimes — murder, rape and arson — be turned over to Japanese authorities before indictment.

But the SOFA does not reflect the agreement, a situation Nakaima told reporters in Washington on Friday that U.S. representatives have indicated would remain unchanged.

Nakaima said he met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia David Sedney at the Pentagon and was told the "sympathetic consideration" to hand over persons charged with the serious felonies should remain unchanged.

"In other words, there exist no clear-cut rules about how to operate [the SOFA] and everything is up to the U.S. side," Nakaima told reporters. "We simply cannot go along with this situation."

Nakaima met with former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage on Thursday and encountered a similar response, according to a report in the Okinawa Times.

Armitage, who is close to Joseph Nye, President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to become the next ambassador to Japan, told Nakaima any change to the existing SOFA would be "extremely difficult," the newspaper reported.

Part of the renewed call to change the SOFA came after the Ministry of Justice released figures for 2007 that showed only 13.3 percent of all criminal cases against people in Japan under the SOFA went to trial in Japanese courts.

On Friday, Nakaima was a featured speaker at a symposium at George Washington University in which he commented on Okinawa’s "burden." U.S. bases occupy more than 20 percent of the main island and several small islands and the surrounding seas are used as firing ranges.

"Not only the land, but U.S. military excessively occupies Okinawa’s sea and skies," Nakaima told the audience, according to the Okinawa Times. "It is necessary to change revisions of the status of forces agreement and reduce and realign U.S. military bases on the island."

According to the report, Nakaima said Torishima, a tiny island about 50 miles west of Okinawa, is "about to sink" because of bombing runs by U.S. aircraft.

Nakaima said he understood the importance of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, but argued Okinawa shouldn’t bear such a concentration of U.S. bases. There are plans to close several bases once U.S. Marine operations can be moved to a new airport on Camp Schwab, but that project is mired in the early environmental survey stages.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now