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A secret accord between Tokyo and Washington on moving U.S. nuclear weapons through Japanese territory has been controlled by top Foreign Ministry bureaucrats who have told only a handful of “trusted” prime ministers and foreign ministers of its existence, four former top ministry officials have revealed.

All four were vice foreign ministers, the top bureaucratic post in the ministry. The limited number of prime ministers told of the secret accord included Ryutaro Hashimoto and Keizo Obuchi, the former officials said.

The pact gives Japan’s tacit approval that U.S. aircraft or naval vessels carrying nuclear weapons can transit Japan.

The revelation indicates that Foreign Ministry bureaucrats have controlled the top-secret matter, not elected officials.

The two allies concluded the secret agreement when the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty was revised in 1960. Although the secret accord became publicly known through the declassification of U.S. diplomatic documents in the late 1990s, the Japanese government has consistently denied its existence.

The government has publicly adhered to the “three nonnuclear principles” of not possessing or developing nuclear weapons, or allowing them on Japanese territory.

It is the first time former top Foreign Ministry bureaucrats have admitted that some prime ministers and foreign ministers knew about the secret deal.

The revelation may shatter the government’s long-standing denial and require it to be held accountable to the public.

The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty stipulates that the U.S. needs to consult with Japan before bringing nuclear weapons through Japanese territory. When the security pact was revised, Washington construed that such a requirement should only apply to the stationing of nuclear weapons and not when aircraft or vessels with such weapons are passing through Japan, the former top ministry officials said.

The administration of Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who signed the revised security pact, acquiesced to the U.S. interpretation.

However, the administration of Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda told the Diet in early 1963 that stopovers of U.S. military vessels with nuclear weapons are subject to prior consultation with the Japanese government.

Fearing that the secret deal might be ruined, U.S. Ambassador Edwin Reischauer met with Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ohira that April and asked for confirmation of the U.S. interpretation on stopovers. Ohira only learned about the pact’s existence through Reischauer’s query, but he approved the U.S. interpretation.

According to the four former top Foreign Ministry officials, these diplomatic exchanges and processes were recorded in Japanese in an in-house document and have been controlled by the North American Affairs Bureau and the old Treaties Bureau, now the International Legal Affairs Bureau.

One of the four said he handed down the matter to his successor. “It was a great secret,” he said.

Another said the Foreign Ministry only informed politicians who the ministry saw as trustworthy, which included Hashimoto and Obuchi.

One of them said Foreign Ministry officials decided who among prime ministers and foreign ministers should be told about the secret deal, suggesting bureaucrats controlled the top-secret matter, not elected representatives.

In a written comment, the Foreign Ministry again denied such a secret deal exists.

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