• Kyodo

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Former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for declaring in 1967 Japan’s nonnuclear principles, described them as “nonsense” just two years later in talks with a U.S. ambassador, according to a recently declassified State Department document.

In a telegram to Secretary of State Dean Rusk dated Jan. 14, 1969, then U.S. Ambassador to Japan Alexis Johnson said he paid a farewell call on Sato before returning to Washington to take up his new position as undersecretary of state.

After exchanging views on the Vietnam War and problems related to Okinawa’s return to Japan, Sato touched on Japan’s defense, saying even the Defense Agency “lacked sophistication in military matters,” Johnson said in the telegram, which was declassified in December 1999.

Sato then said the Japanese government’s three nonnuclear principles were “nonsense.”

“However,” Johnson stressed in the telegram, “this should not be interpreted to mean Japan wants to have nuclear weapons.”

The remark “astonished” Chief Cabinet Secretary Shigeru Hori, who was present at the Sato-Johnson meeting, the ambassador added. Sato made the remark amid Washington’s concerns that Japan might go nuclear on its own.

Sato told a Diet session in December 1967 that the Japanese government adopts the three nonnuclear principles of not producing, possessing or allowing nuclear weapons into the country.

Partly due to this declaration, Sato received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974.

However, Sato is also known to have allowed a U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier suspected of carrying nuclear weapons to enter a Japanese port for the first time in January 1968, just one month after the Diet announcement.

The decision to allow the USS Enterprise to enter Sasebo port in southwestern Japan triggered a bloody student demonstration against the government.

In January 1965, he told then U.S. President Lyndon Johnson that if China goes nuclear, Japan should follow, a remark made known by an earlier-declassified U.S. document.

The “nonsense” remark, made four years after the summit, suggests Sato strongly believed in the idea of nuclear deterrence and that his earlier announcement of the three nonnuclear principles simply reflected the strong antinuclear sentiment of the public at the time.