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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — U.S. and Japanese officials are near agreement on a change in the status of forces agreement allowing U.S. officials to be present when police interrogate U.S. servicemembers suspected of crimes.

“It is safe to say that a progress was made in the talks although an agreement is yet to be reached,” said Hatsuhisa Takashima, director-general for press and public relations at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, commenting on the status of two days of talks in Washington.

The talks are aimed at reviewing SOFA provisions for handling servicemembers charged with crimes in Japan. Following a rape case involving a Marine on Okinawa in May, officials from the two governments held a series of talks last summer geared toward improving the handling of suspects.

Japanese officials wanted the immediate turnover of suspects to Japanese police. Under the current SOFA, Americans are not handed over until they are indicted in a Japanese court, unless they’re arrested outside the military bases.

A special operational guideline covers the early hand-over of servicemembers charged with rape and murder.

American officials, on the other hand, wanted the agreement changed to allow a U.S. official to be present when police questioned suspects. Under the Japanese legal system, suspects do not have the right to have lawyers present during interrogations.

Japanese media, citing unnamed diplomatic sources, reported earlier this week that a compromise was reached when U.S. officials agreed the representative would be considered as an aid to the investigation and not a representative of the suspect.

Next, the U.S.-Japan Joint Committee, which deals with SOFA-related issues, is to consider the agreement. That could come as early as next month.

“Before reaching an agreement, another meeting is required,” Takashima said Monday. “It is expected to be held in the not-too-distant future.”

He would not elaborate on the content of the discussions because, he said, “the talks are still under way.”

A Pentagon official Monday also declined to elaborate. “There are ongoing discussions between the U.S. and Japan but a final decision has not been approved,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alvin Plexico, Asia Pacific press officer for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense.

Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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