US signs environmental agreement allowing Japan access to military facilities
WASHINGTON — The U.S. and Japan on Monday signed an accord that will permit Japanese access to U.S. military facilities in its country in order to conduct certain environmental surveys.
The agreement supplements the long-standing Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement — which allows the U.S. to maintain military bases in Japan — was signed by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida at the Pentagon. While it does not officially amend the SOFA, it is the first such bilateral supplement to the agreement since its implementation in 1960, according to a defense official who was speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the agreement.
The agreement, Kishida said before signing, would bolster the relationship between the U.S. and Japan and alleviate some concerns raised by communities neighboring U.S. military installations in the country.
Both the U.S. and Japanese governments have been criticized in recent months by Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has said his island hosts an unfair percentage of American military stationed in Japan. According to the governor nearly 75 percent of U.S. military posts in Japan are on Okinawa, which represents less than 1 percent of Japanese land. There are about 54,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan, according to U.S. Forces Japan.
“This agreement is truly important and meaningful in enhancing local communities and gaining the support of the people (for) Japan-U.S. security agreements in the future,” Kishida said through a translator.
The SOFA amendment signed Monday allows the Japanese government to conduct environmental field surveys on U.S. bases after a spill or before the transfer of the land back to Japan. It also paves the way for Japan to potentially take steps – including launching investigations – if they have “reasonable basis” to believe hazardous materials, waste, or other substances outside of a U.S. facility are harming U.S. troops, the defense official said.
Previously, the agreement did not allow municipalities or the Japanese government access to the bases.
The agreement had been in the works since the two countries began negotiations last February.
The agreement, which had been in the works since last February, Kishida said, means the U.S. will bear more responsibility for the environment at its sites in Japan.
“We are mindful about being good neighbors,” Carter said, adding that the new agreement was “a big step forward in our commitment … (and) a testament to the enduring strength of our partnership."