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Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 17:55

Japan, US to advance talks to narrow scope of workers protected by SOFA

By Agencies
Japan, US to advance talks to narrow scope of workers protected by SOFA
U S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada answer questions from journalists during a joint press conference at the Defense Ministry Tokyo, Dec 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO – Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and the visiting US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter agreed here on Wednesday to further talk on narrowing the scope of US military base workers protected by the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Under the 1960 pact, a bilateral pact that gives US servicemen and civilian workers in Japan privileged legal status, the US justice system, instead of Japanese courts, has the primary right of jurisdiction over crimes committed by US base service members and their "civil component" if the accused was "acting on official duty."

The Japanese and US governments decided in July to "clarify" and narrow down the scope of the "civilian component," after a former US Marine and base worker raped and murdered a 20-year-old local woman in April and evoked widespread criticism and anti-US sentiment in the island prefecture of Okinawa .

The Okinawa people, however, demanded the SOFA to be drastically reviewed, instead of just being adjusted in a very limited way as the government now plans to do, and the US bases to be relocated outside the prefecture.

Okinawa hosts some 75 percent of US bases in Japan while accounting for only 0.6 percent of the country's total land mass. Criminal cases involving US military men repeatedly happened in Okinawa.

Tomomi Inada, speaking at the joint news conference, said she believes her country's alliance with the US will endure in the Trump administration because it benefits both countries.

Japan, US to advance talks to narrow scope of workers protected by SOFA
U S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, and Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada walk after inspecting an honor guard at the Defense Ministry Tokyo, Dec 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Asked about President-elect Donald Trump's suggestion that Japan build its own nuclear deterrent force, she said Japan expects to remain under the US nuclear umbrella.

Inada said discussion about the future of the alliance should focus on shared security capabilities rather than financial burdens. She also said Japan will stick to its vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.

"This will remain unchanged," she said, implicitly rejecting the notion of Japan developing its own nuclear force. She noted that Japan is the only country in the world to have experienced the horrors of nuclear war.

During their talks, Inada and Carter also reaffirmed plans for the return of some 10,000 acres of training land in Okinawa by the US to Japanese control, which was announced a day earlier by Carter and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Japan, US to advance talks to narrow scope of workers protected by SOFA

U S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, left, and Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada shake hands after their joint press conference at the Defense Ministry Tokyo, Dec 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The return would mark the largest release of land from US control to Japan since the 1972 reversion of Okinawa to Japan from US control, said Carter.

Carter has been in Tokyo for a two-day visit before heading for India. The visit was considered by some analysts as aiming to reassure Japan of the US-Japan alliance amid uncertainties over bilateral ties under the new US administration to be led by President-elect Donald Trump.

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