• Kyodo News


Japan gave the United States a memorandum in July 1967 strongly demanding that Washington consider returning its control of the Okinawa and Ogasawara island groups, according to a Foreign Ministry document declassified Friday.

The document pointed out inaction on the part of the United States and urged it to move swiftly, effectively kick-starting talks that led to the eventual return of the islands to Japanese control.

Another newly declassified ministry document shows that on the occasion of the Ogasawara reversion in 1968, the two countries forged a secret agreement on the introduction of nuclear weapons to the islands by the U.S. military in the event of a military emergency.

After surrendering to the Allies in August 1945 and ending World War II, Japan regained its independence when a 1951 peace treaty took effect in April 1952, but the Ogasawara Islands remained under U.S. occupation until 1968 and Okinawa until 1972.

The memorandum was handed to U.S. Ambassador Alexis Johnson by Foreign Minister Takeo Miki during their talks on July 15, 1967, according to the document.

Noting growing domestic calls to settle the question of U.S. occupation and intensifying movements in Okinawa for its reversion, the memo said failure to act would risk hurting U.S. interests.

“If the Okinawa and Ogasawara problem is left unattended, there is a risk that it may be taken advantage of by forces bent on driving a wedge in Japanese-U.S. relations,” the memorandum said.

“There is also a risk that it may cause trouble to the operation of bases on Okinawa,” it added.

The memorandum proposed that Okinawa be returned to Japanese control with U.S. bases intact, while calling for a swift return of the Ogasawara Islands because their military role “appears to be limited.”

The U.S. ambassador praised the memorandum as a good basis for discussion, noting it made clear Japan’s position.

Talks subsequently got under way between Japanese and U.S. officials, such as Miki and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

In November 1967, Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and President Lyndon B. Johnson agreed to the reversion of the Ogasawaras, which took place in June the following year.

Sato and Johnson’s successor, Richard M. Nixon, agreed at a summit in 1969 to the reversion of Okinawa in 1972.

The other declassified document is a confidential cable sent to Foreign Minister Kiichi Aichi by the Japanese Embassy in Washington on Nov. 5, 1969, about two weeks before Sato and Nixon agreed to the reversion of Okinawa after removing nuclear weapons.

Regarding a possible U.S. request to redeploy nuclear weapons in times of emergency once they were removed from Okinawa, Richard Finn, director of the Office of Japanese Affairs at the U.S. State Department, said in a conversation with a senior embassy official that forging a secret agreement similar to the one on the Ogasawaras was one option, illustrating the U.S. position that a secret pact was forged over the return of the Ogasawaras.

In the Ogasawara chain, nuclear weapons had been stored on Chichi Island until 1965 and on Iwojima between 1956 and 1959, according to declassified U.S. documents and experts. A U.S. Navy facility was on the former, while a U.S. Air Force facility was on the latter.

Japan and the United States agreed when the Ogasawara Islands were returned that redeploying nuclear weapons to the two islands would be subject to prior consultation under the bilateral security treaty.

The United States regarded it as a secret pact and viewed itself as having obtained the right to reintroduce nuclear weapons to these islands in the event of a crisis with Tokyo’s tacit approval.

Some observers say the agreement regarding the Ogasawaras became a model for a nuclear pact regarding Okinawa in which Japan tacitly approved the reintroduction of nuclear weapons there after its reversion.

In December 1967, Sato proclaimed the three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on Japanese territory.

But the principles became a mere facade in the years that followed due to these secret agreements.

Successive Japanese governments consistently denied the existence of the secret pacts until the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition took power in 2009.

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