TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The new minister in charge of issues related to Okinawa said Tuesday the Japan-U.S. status of forces agreement should be "re-examined" in light of the fatal crash off Australia involving an Okinawa-based Marine Corps Osprey aircraft, likely overstepping Tokyo's official line on the politically sensitive pact.
Tetsuma Esaki defended his comment later in the day, saying it does not contradict the stance of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration which had negotiated modifications to the accord.
His remark could be taken as calling for a revision to the agreement, which is not among the Abe government's policy goals.
The 1960 pact defines the rights of U.S. forces and their personnel in Japan. While the government of Okinawa has called for a revision of the agreement on the grounds that its provisions are unfair to Japan by being overly protective of the personnel, the Japanese government has been extremely reluctant to propose renegotiating the pact, which has never been amended.
The 73-year-old Esaki has just drawn fire from opposition parties for having said Saturday, just two days after he was appointed, that he would "read aloud" texts prepared by government officials so as not to make mistakes.
It was not immediately clear what impact Tuesday's remark would have inside the government. But as the Cabinet minister with the portfolio, Esaki is tasked with promoting the economy of the island prefecture. It is therefore unusual for someone in his capacity to address a possible revision of SOFA.
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