Report: SOFA talks between U.S., Japan to resume soon
U.S. and Japanese officials are expected to resume talks on changing the status of forces agreement between the two countries, according to reports in the Japanese press.
The Asahi Shimbun, quoting unnamed Japan Foreign Ministry sources, reported earlier this week a new round of the talks, which stalled in August, could resume soon.
However, U.S. and Japanese officials contacted by Stars and Stripes wouldn’t confirm the report.
“The date to resume the talks is yet to be set, and it is too early at this point to comment on it,” said an official in the international public affairs office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on Thursday.
“We are, however, making our utmost efforts for the early solution of the issue,” he added.
Both sides are pressing for changes in the way criminal cases involving U.S. personnel are covered by the agreement.
Japanese officials want the agreement changed to allow for the immediate handover of servicemembers and others charged with indictable offenses. Under the current provision, Japanese police have immediate jurisdiction only of personnel they arrest outside the bases.
Personnel picked up by U.S. military authorities are not turned over to the Japanese until they’re indicted in Japanese court, although an unwritten agreement exists for the earlier turnover of persons suspected of murder and rape.
U.S. officials, on the other hand, want changes in the agreement allowing them to be present during the questioning of suspects by Japanese police — a right not granted to Japanese citizens.
Under Japanese law, suspects may be held for up to 22 days under what amounts to solitary confinement. They aren’t allowed to have a lawyer or other representative present during questioning by Japanese police and prosecutors.
U.S. officials have also asked that suspects covered by the SOFA have their own interpreters present during interrogations. Under the current provisions, servicemembers in military custody prior to indictment are escorted to local police stations for questioning, but their escorts are not allowed to sit in on the sessions.
The U.S. demand for representation during questioning received support from the Okinawa Bar Association in December. In making their request for changes, the lawyers’ group said the Japanese legal system should be changed to allow such representation for all persons facing criminal charges.
The group also supported the Japanese request that all SOFA personnel charged with crimes be immediately handed over to local police.
The two sides held a series of meetings in Tokyo, Washington and Honolulu that began June 18, shortly after U.S. officials agreed to the pre-indictment surrender of a Marine charged with rape on Okinawa.
The meetings ended 45 days later in a stalemate.
The Marine, Lance Cpl. Joseph W. Torres, 21, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3½ years in a Japanese prison.
The last time officials discussed the topic was when U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met in Tokyo with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi in November.