• Kyodo

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The timing of the reversion of Okinawa to Japan from U.S. control in 1972 was negotiated by Tokyo and Washington to encourage a smooth transition of power from then-Prime Minister Eisaku Sato to his intended successor, previously classified U.S. documents show.

While Washington initially proposed July 1 for the reversion, Japanese negotiators pushed for April 1 to reflect well on Takeo Fukuda, the foreign minister at the time, and allow him to succeed Sato, according to a secret cable sent from U.S. Ambassador Armin Meyer to U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers on Dec. 11, 1971.

“The sooner reversion takes place the sooner Sato will retire and the better Fukuda’s chances for succession,” Meyer wrote in the cable.

The countries ended up “splitting the difference,” as the cable said, and Okinawa returned to Japanese jurisdiction on May 15, 1972.

The U.S. government agreed to bring the reversion date forward to encourage the formation of a new pro-U.S. government in Tokyo.

However, Fukuda ended up losing to Kakuei Tanaka in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential race in 1972 and thus did not succeed Sato. He eventually became prime minister in 1976.

The cable was declassified in April 2012, and was discovered by Waseda University visiting professor Mikio Haruna in the Nixon Presidential Library in the United States.

The cable conveyed Fukuda’s message that Sato planned to push for the change of date during talks with U.S. President Richard Nixon in January 1972, in part “to enhance prospects for engineering Fukuda’s succession to (the) premiership.”

Meyer also mentioned Vice Foreign Minister Haruki Mori, saying the date change could help secure prompt passage in the Diet of legislation needed to implement the reversion agreement, and that reversion would provide Sato with a final triumph before retiring, improving Fukuda’s chances of smoothly taking over.

U.S. negotiators had proposed July 1, the start of the U.S. fiscal year at the time, in order to leave time to fully secure agreement with Japan on provisions such as the removal of nuclear weapons from Okinawa and the reduction of the number of U.S. military bases in the prefecture.

Meyer recommended to Rogers that Washington make clear to Tokyo the “difficulty and perhaps practical impossibility of completing all arrangements” by the new reversion date.

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