Japan, U.S. eye talks in Jan. for environmental survey at U.S. bases

The Japanese and U.S. governments plan to start talks in January on a new accord allowing local authorities in Japan to make on-site inspections of U.S. military bases when environmental problems occur, Japanese government sources said Monday.

The talks were agreed on last month between Tokyo and Washington to meet Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima's requests as conditions for his approval of landfill work for the relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps base in the southern island prefecture.

The upcoming talks are expected to focus on the duration and method of on-site inspections.

The Japanese side will seek to ensure sufficient time for such inspections, but the U.S. side is concerned that long inspections could hamper training and other activities at the bases, according to bilateral diplomatic sources.

The envisioned agreement will complement the existing status-of-forces agreement governing the use of U.S. military bases in Japan without actually revising the pact.

With no clause on environmental protection in the SOFA, Nakaima and other local officials have called for the inclusion of such a clause in the bilateral agreement to allow local authorities to conduct environmental surveys on bases.

Under the bilateral agreement reached last month, the new accord would create "uniform procedures" for Japanese officials to access U.S. military facilities and areas in case of an "environmental incident" and to conduct environmental surveys before land used by the U.S. military is returned to Japanese control.