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Situated among boiling sulfur pits and magma-blackened rocks, the hot-spring resort of Hakone, 100 km west of Tokyo, provided a suitably apocalyptic backdrop for secret nuclear talks held by the United States and Japan in November 1961. The meetings, attended by U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s secretary of state, Dean Rusk, and Japan’s foreign minister, Zentaro Kosaka, had repercussions for the U.S. Air Force missileers then recently dispatched to Okinawa — and they offer a disturbing glimpse into Tokyo’s attitude to U.S. atomic weaponry just 16 years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The issue of nuclear-armed U.S. Mace missiles had first been broached by Kosaka when he met Rusk at the Hakone Kanko Hotel on Nov. 4. Apparently unaware that the Americans were just about to put the finishing touches to the first Mace launch site at Bolo Point on the main island of Okinawa, the Japanese foreign minister asked Rusk to keep the presence of the missiles on Okinawa as quiet as possible.

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