99. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1


  • The Ryukyu–Bonin Islands and the Sato Visit

As you know a major subject during Prime Minister Sato’s visit in mid-November will be the future status of the Ryukyu and Bonin Islands.

The situation is very fluid in Japan on this subject just now, and Ambassador Johnson is anxious to receive your approval of a U.S. position for purposes of negotiating the Sato visit communiqué.

Essentially, Sato does not want a fight with us on this issue. He is willing to follow our lead within reason, but he needs to know approximately what we are willing to do before he can give the lead in turn to the Japanese. He needs that lead at this point.

[Page 214]

At Tab A is a memo from the Secretary of State requesting your approval of a negotiating position in the form of draft language for the Sato visit communiqué (Tab B).2

At Tab C is a proposed telegram to Tokyo explaining our position.

The Secretary’s memo sets forth the issues clearly. I believe it is not essential that you read Tabs B and C at this time.

I recommend that you approve the Secretary’s recommendation in Tab A.

Secretary McNamara has reviewed and approved the recommendation.




See Me3

Tab A

Memorandum from Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson 4


  • Visit of Prime Minister Sato


That you authorize negotiations with the Japanese Government of draft communiqué language embodying:

A commitment to enter into early negotiations for the return of the Bonin Islands (permitting, however, United States retention of the whole island of Iwo Jima as a military base); and,
Interim measures relating to the Ryukyu Islands which would not commit us to return these islands,

on the understanding that these commitments would be subject to final approval by you and Prime Minister Sato at your November 14–15 meetings.


The major issues we anticipate during the visit of Prime Minister Sato will be twofold: First, Japanese willingness to shoulder a greater share of the political and economic burdens of regional responsibility; and second, our response to Japanese desires for forward movement on reversion of the Ryukyu and Bonin Islands.

In preparation for the Sato visit, I stressed to Foreign Minister Miki in mid-September the actions we sought from Japan as a contributing partner in the region and our inability primarily for security reasons to make a commitment at this time on the return of the Ryukyus. At Miki’s request, I said we would give serious consideration to reversion of the Bonin Islands in the near future but in this event Iwo Jima would have to be treated as a special case.

The Japanese have responded very positively to my talks with Miki. Both Sato and Miki have come out with strong statements of support on our Vietnam policies, particularly on the bombing issue, and Sato during his two trips through Asia has begun to exercise the regional leadership we seek from Japan. Furthermore, the Japanese leaders have made concerted efforts to dampen down expectations for immediate reversion of the Ryukyus, stressing the key relationship of our military position on Okinawa to their own and regional security.

Ambassador Johnson informs me that he expects Sato to be helpful on both increased assistance to Southeast Asia and on our balance of payments problem, if we can be responsive to his desire for forward steps on the Ryukyus and particularly the Bonins to help stem reversionist pressures. Sato faces increasingly heavy political and public demands to obtain substantial progress in the resolution of these issues. His failure to obtain any significant response from us will be politically damaging to him and could lead to serious problems in our relations with Japan as well as with the local populace in the Ryukyus. In the Ambassador’s views, the key factor will be our willingness to enter into negotiations for return of the Bonins and he has requested earliest guidance on this matter before undertaking further talks with Miki.6 [Page 216] On the other hand, the Japanese recognize the complex problems inhibiting immediate reversion of the Ryukyus, although they need to be able to show evidence of forward motion in this area. We are therefore proposing (1) interim steps which would not involve any further commitment on our part to Ryukyu reversion, but would slightly change the public formula on reversion and would provide for further identification of the Ryukyuan people with Japan and (2) agreement to subsequent periodic review of the status of the islands in light of the related security problems.7

At present the United States has few military installations in the Bonins. Military personnel as of June 30, 1967 totaled 77 (33 Navy and 44 Air Force), plus 3 United States civilians and 55 foreign-national civilians employed by the Navy. The principal installations are: (1) a naval facility on Chichi Jima used to support patrolling operations in the Philippine Sea; (2) a stand-by airfield on Iwo Jima capable of supporting major operations; (3) a smaller airfield on Marcus Island; (4) a weather reporting facility; and, (5) a stand-by nuclear weapons storage facility (details on United States installations are enclosed).

The Joint Chiefs of Staff would prefer to retain administrative rights over the Bonins for contingency purposes and until the political status of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands is resolved. As a fallback position, they would agree to return all the Bonin Islands except Iwo Jima and Chichi Jima, and to consult with the Japanese on the military utility of these two islands to Japan and the United States. Since most of the Bonin Islanders now residing in Japan had lived in Chichi Jima, retention of this island would create serious problems in Japan. Retention of the naval facility in Chichi Jima under the Security Treaty provisions and of the whole island of Iwo Jima as an emergency stand-by base could, however, serve to meet our contingency requirements. To emphasize that return of the Bonins represents a step toward shared responsibility for the region, it is also proposed to seek Japanese agreement to assume larger defense responsibilities in the area, while agreeing to our retention of other stand-by facilities as required.

Retention of Iwo Jima as a military base is also recommended because of anticipated adverse public reaction in this country to its [Page 217] return. However, the Japanese in preliminary talks with us have strongly resisted our retention of Iwo Jima and suggested instead a United States memorial park on Mount Surabachi. Ambassador Johnson is concerned that retention of Iwo Jima could significantly detract from the value of Bonins reversion unless we can make a strong case on security grounds.

Secretary McNamara has reviewed and concurs in the recommendation made above. If you approve this recommendation, we also propose to undertake immediately the necessary consultations with the Congressional leadership to obtain its reaction before final approval is given to the draft communiqué during the Sato visit.

Dean Rusk
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Japan, Visit of Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, November 14–15, 1967. Secret.
  2. Tabs B and C are attached but not printed.
  3. President Johnson checked this option and added a handwritten note: “Let’s meet on this with JCS spokesman present. L.”
  4. Secret; Nodis. The Department of State copy indicates the memorandum was drafted by Sneider and cleared by Bundy, Aldrich, Macomber, and Halperin. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 JAPAN)
  5. The President neither approved nor disapproved the recommendation.
  6. In telegram 2585 from Tokyo, October 17, U. Alexis Johnson sent Rusk his evaluation of the Bonins issue. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 JAPAN)
  7. In addition, the High Commissioner and the Ambassador approved of political change on the Ryukyus to foster autonomy by agreeing to propose the direct election of the Chief Executive of the Islands. Given the unsettled political atmosphere on the Islands at the time, however, implementation of the change would be postponed to a future, unspecified date. (Telegram from HICOMRY (Naha), October 8, and telegram 2608 from Tokyo, October 10; both ibid., POL 19 RYU IS)